One in four persons 65 and over is working and many are doing so because they need to. Older Americans are the fastest growing group of workers in the country. Longevity means, for some, many more years or work than anticipated earlier in life. Few private sector jobs provide a defined benefit (pension). One half of private sector workers have no retirement benefits and those with 401Ks lost 1/3 of their account value during the recession. This was particularly devastating to workers close to anticipated retirement, many of whom consequently have kept working. Fifty percent of older Americans still help support adult children and many provide caretaking services either to grandchildren, ill children, and/or even older parents. The median baby boomer savings is $150,000 –not nearly sufficient for a potential 30 year retirement. Single mothers, many who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, find that even with social security and food stamps they cannot make it. Many of these women were likely to work full time, and more, but made relatively low wages and frequently had no benefits. They are relying on food banks to survive. It has been well documented that many seniors go without necessary meds, or cut meds, to make ends meet. Women of color, and individuals in the LGBTQ community, also face similar situations. More affluent older people volunteer at community agencies. Volunteer work provides purpose and increases the physical and mental health of its incumbents and just as significantly contributes 73 billion dollars of value to the economy.
Although poverty among seniors has decreased over the past few decades it stands at 10% of all seniors and 12.1% of women seniors when utilizing the official poverty level. If the supplemental poverty level is incorporated, a measure which takes into consideration the real cost of basic services, 12.2% of senior men and 15.6% of women are poor and even that statistic may underestimate the actual need. One in twelve seniors faced food insufficiency in 2017. Women 60-64 were twice as likely to be food insecure than those over 80,perhaps in part because they are unlikely to be collecting social security and are not yet eligible for Medicare to help with healthcare. Trump has made multiple moves to cut SNAP (federal food supplement program formerly referred to as food stamps). In October his proposed cut amounted to 4.5 billion dollars, affecting one in five families. Though Congress has not made the requested cuts in the Department of Agriculture, the agency governing food stamps, Trump has made cuts by executive order and is likely to commit to more cuts.
Although the portion of older people who are officially impoverished has decreased there are still many seniors struggling and many who are not counted because they make over the poverty level and/or are working into their “senior” years because they cannot afford to quit. Many maintain grueling schedules in physically demanding work for which they are ill suited. Single women, especially those who supported children, are likely to be working longer and also to have been unable to save since they were paying for childcare and other basic needs on a single income. The proposed SNAP cuts would refigure eligibility by incorporating state standards for other expenses such as utilities, housing, and first time access to the internet. Although a small group would gain an average of 13 dollars per month more would lose an average of 31 a month. Northern legislators are against the cuts because of the pressure to protect their constituencies’ benefits while rural representatives are worried about saving programs where the government buys farm products. In the midst of these political squabbles the elderly are suffering, many of whom are relying on standing in queues to receive food bank assistance. In any case, SNAP and social security are not meeting the needs of elderly and the impoverished population of nonelderly is now lower than the senior rate. Seniors have not made any economic gains under the Trump administration’s policies. The US has no guaranteed basic income as seen in other countries and maintains a large bureaucracy, fragmented and inefficient, to provide for a reasonable standard of living.
Photo by Matthew Bennett