Senior Poverty: Many Older Americans Are Struggling to Meet Basic Needs

Worried senior man sitting alone in his home. Worried about senior poverty.

It is nothing short of a national tragedy; 45 percent of aging Americans are not making it financially to meet their most basic needs. Many of these older adults must routinely shuffle their available resources in an attempt to keep quality health care, a roof over their heads, lighting, heating and air conditioning, cash resources for food and medicine, and other life basics. Living paycheck to paycheck has morphed into, "How do I live day to day?" Choices such as, "Should I eat today or purchase high blood pressure medication?" are sadly becoming the norm for many. While this might read as dramatic, the truth is that envisioning lyrical "golden years" for nearly half of Americans age 65 or older has become an illusion. Senior poverty is all too common.

The Growing Numbers of Seniors in Poverty

Aging in America and living in poverty is synonymous with 6.4 million seniors. While the 45 percent statistic is of desperate social concern, projections indicate that by 2050 senior poverty will quadruple without major government policy changes. The significant steps that currently address education and jobs, such as poverty prevention programs, policies, and corresponding social movements, have made inroads reducing poverty levels for some. However, for the increasing population of low- to no-income seniors, these preventative measures do not address their demographic and are too late to save them.

Healthcare Costs Expound Senior Poverty Issues

Justice in Aging reports that older Americans with Medicare still spend an average of $5,368 per year on out-of-pocket healthcare costs, and the majority have no long-term care coverage. There must be a push to protect and improve programs and to leverage technology, making care more affordable and more available to seniors aging at home and in their communities.

Fighting Senior Poverty

Anyone in America can wind up aging into poverty because bad things can happen. Nearly five million older adults in America live on less than $1,000 a month. Improvements in independent living programs and senior access to them can help older adults meet their basic needs while remaining in their communities. Expanding access and benefits to lower-income seniors through Social Security and Medicare, and SSI and Medicaid is the responsibility of American elected leaders. There is a moral imperative afoot to protect vulnerable populations, and none are more susceptible than aging elder Americans falling into cycles of impoverishment.

Sadly, these issues are not new and have been concerns for some time. TalkPoverty reviewed a number of options for fighting senior poverty six years ago. It’s been more than half a decade, yet many of these needs are still relevant today:

  • Address pending insolvencies in the Social Security and Medicare programs.
  • Improve and modernize the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.
  • Increase programs for health care and long term care. Fully 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will require long-term care at some point in their lives.
  • Advocate for federal support for a more robust long-term care safety net aside from Medicaid. We need a better solution for middle-income seniors.
  • Keep watch on the need to continuously renew the Older Americans Act (OAA). This act provides funding for seniors' critical services to remain living healthy and independent lives. The act has been renewed through 2024, but it is in danger eery four years.

Not only are the needs still high, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased legal issues for seniors, for which seniors require a champion in the courts. For example, the federal mandate protecting evictions is due to expire at the end of March 2021, putting many seniors at risk of losing their homes. Fortunately, Justice in Aging works in partnership with pro bono attorneys and advocates at top law firms to return billions in benefits to older adults with limited resources. The decisions rendered are often precedent-setting cases benefiting hundreds of thousands of seniors.

If you or a loved one have questions or would like to talk about your particular situation related to Medicaid planning for seniors, please don’t hesitate to reach out. McCreary Law Office helps seniors and their families qualify for Medicaid for long term care. But proactive planning, done in advance of those needs, is often the better path. Please contact McCreary Law Office or call the Jacksonville, FL office at 904-425-9046 or the Houston, TX office at 713-568-8600 to learn more.

Attorney Jana McCreary

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Houston Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney Jana R. McCreary has been an attorney for over eighteen years, a career move she made after working for over a decade with adults and children with intellectual disabilities and mental illness. Graduatin… Read More

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