New estimates from the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston find that millions of older adults, especially those living alone, continue to live on incomes that fall below the Elder IndexTM, a county-by-county measure of the income needed by adults aged 65 or older to meet their basic needs and age in place.
Findings in a new report, “Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans, 2022,” show that half of older adults living alone in the United States, and one out of five older couples lack the financial resources to cover their basic needs.
“In seven years, the needle hasn’t moved much,” says Jan Mutchler, PhD, director of the Gerontology Institute, who manages the Elder Index. “Across the country, close to half of all single adults 65 and over continue to struggle to afford their basic needs.”
Big differences continue to be found across states, based largely on housing costs. The Elder Index measures the costs of housing, health care, transportation, food, and miscellaneous expenses to set a basic income level. Older people are far more likely to experience financial shortfalls in New York, Mississippi, Vermont, Massachusetts, and California than in Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Utah, and Ohio, with some differences depending on whether older adults live alone or as a couple.
The new report also illustrates the impact of recent inflation. Between 2015 and 2022, the U.S. average Elder Index for single owners without a mortgage increased by 20 percent and by 19 percent for single owners with a mortgage. Older single renters saw their costs increase by 25 percent over the same period. The U.S. average Elder Index for single renters in good health is $28,920 annually, which is more than twice the federal poverty guideline.
Overall, 7 million older adults living alone have incomes below the Elder index, along with 5 million people living with just one other person who is also 65-plus, for a total of 12 million Americans struggling to make ends meet.
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