Posts Tagged "COVID"

Connect with a Senior During the Holidays

Hannah Boulton defies the stereotype of the lonely retiree longing for companionship during the holidays. But after two-plus years of a pandemic, even this dynamic former nurse who’s lived on three continents started feeling a little isolated.

Ally Brooks and Hannah Boulton

Ally Brooks and Hannah Boulton

Then she met Ally Brooks, a high school senior, through the Sages and Seekers program at the senior center in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in September. The program, modeled on a national nonprofit’s workshop, paired up seven retirees with seven high school seniors. It was such a success – the program was Boulton’s’ idea – that a second one is planned in January for a new crop of seniors.

The 76-year-old Boulton and Brooks bonded immediately over their love of travel. Boulton shared her adventures, having lived in Okinawa during the Vietnam War, where her first husband was stationed, and in Karlsruhe, Germany, where her second husband worked.

And she encouraged Brooks to follow through with a plan to apply to four colleges in England and Scotland, including, coincidentally, one that Boulton’s late husband had attended. “I was so excited for her, and of course I’ll visit her” in college, she said. “I just feel like we’re connected.”

Participants in the Sages and Seekers program

Participants in the Sages and Seekers program

Chris Coakley, who manages the volunteers for the Duxbury senior center, said the Sages and Seekers program fulfilled its goal of easing the isolation she saw was affecting the town’s older residents.

A significant minority of older Americans in various surveys have said they are lonely, and the pandemic only heightened that feeling, which already existed for reasons ranging from hearing loss to struggles with the death of a spouse or a chronic illness.

The pandemic, Coakley said, made the center’s staff realize “how important it was to have connections.”

So consider taking the initiative yourself to reach out to an older family member or neighbor. Invite someone for a meal during the holidays or drop in for a visit.

It takes a little work. But the effort will make a difference. …Learn More

COVID’s Small Impact on Future Mortality

The most COVID deaths were among Americans over age 60, who accounted for 300,000 of the 500,000 U.S. deaths from the disease in its first year.

A new study by the Center for Retirement Research finds, not surprisingly, that the oldest survivors of the early months of the pandemic were healthier than those who died from the virus. Taking this into account, the researchers estimated what mortality might look like in a “post-COVID” world in an analysis that was based on a big assumption – that COVID’s deaths were confined to a single year.

Factoring in the early impact of the virus, the researchers found that, despite COVID’s tragic toll in the over-60 population, their future mortality would decline only slightly because the number of COVID deaths was low relative to the group’s overall population.

Even a small drop in mortality might seem counterintuitive at a time the media were widely reporting that COVID was causing a dramatic increase in the annual death rate. But future mortality is different.

The researchers decided to test whether mortality would decline over the next decade because the older people who survived the pandemic were less likely to have the medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer that made others in their age group vulnerable. COVID’s survivors are a healthier population, they explained, with lower mortality rates than those who entered the pandemic. …Learn More

The Cost of Having a Disability in COVID

In COVID’s early months, millions of workers’ incomes dried up as the unemployment rate skyrocketed. But older Americans were somewhat shielded from the downturn.

That’s because they either are over 62 and on Social Security or receive federal disability benefits every month at higher rates than young adults. And just like everybody else, they got relief checks from Congress to soften the blow from the pandemic.

Yet, despite the reliability of a government check, older Americans with disabilities suffered from “acute financial insecurity,” according to a new study that seeks to understand why.

During the pandemic, people over the age of 50 with disabilities reported having much more difficulty paying for food than people without a disability. They also showed more signs of financial distress, including missing a payment on a credit card, utility, or medical bill, researcher Zachary Morris found.

But the heart of his analysis of household financial data was confirmation of his suspicion that a loss of income was not the primary reason that financial insecurity increased for people with disabilities during the pandemic.

Much of the strain came from higher spending likely resulting from rising costs for disability-related items such as prescription drugs like insulin, assistive technologies, and personal protective equipment to protect themselves during the stay-at-home orders. A 12 percent increase last year in the cost of home health aides was a prime example that hit people with disabilities particularly hard. …Learn More

Cut off from Grandkids, Depression Sets in

The purpose of the 2020 restrictions on older people’s activities during COVID – whether voluntary or government enforced – were crucial: keeping them alive as the deadly Delta variant raced through the population worldwide.

But saving lives came at the cost of grandparents’ mental health, according to a study in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences about grandparents in England.

In the scary early months of the pandemic, grandparents cut off or limited interactions with their grandchildren. In England, the grandparents who isolated themselves suffered more mental health problems, including bouts of depression, than the grandparents who maintained the same amount of contact with grandchildren as they’d had before COVID, the researchers found.

This isolation affected grandparents all over the world. American doctors warned older people against mingling with young family members, any of whom might be asymptomatic carriers of the disease. European governments imposed lockdowns or discouraged old and young from getting together. In Israel, the defense minister said, “the single most lethal combination cocktail is when grandma meets her grandchild and hugs him.”

The response by grandparents was echoed in a March 2020 article, “When Can I See my Grandkids?” The COVID-imposed isolation finally gave way to some normalcy after the older population got vaccinated at high rates.

But researchers said the pre-vaccine loneliness had an especially big impact on the grandparents of children under 15 who took the most dramatic step: cutting off all contact with them. Early in 2020, half of the English grandparents who had caregiving duties prior to the pandemic stopped interacting with the children. …Learn More

Research to Look at Work, Retiring by Race

The racial disparities embedded in our work, retirement, and government systems will be front and center at the annual meeting of a national research consortium.

One of the presentations at the online meeting on Aug. 4 and 5 will explore the impact of wealth and income inequality on Black and Latinx workers at a time these populations are rapidly aging. The researchers are concerned with how their decisions about when to retire will impact their economic security.

Growing inequality “point[s] to greater risks of financial insecurity” for future Black and Latinx retirees, the researchers said.

Another paper will address a related topic: the differences, by race and ethnicity, in workers’ levels of knowledge about how Social Security benefits work. Understanding the ins and outs of the federal retirement benefit – and specifically the advantages of delaying retirement to get a larger monthly check – are critical to improving living standards in old age.

Other research will explore an area that hasn’t been well studied: government programs used by non-parental caregivers such as Black grandparents or members of Latinx three-generation households to support the children in their care. The researchers will examine minority and low-income workers’ and retirees’ use of SNAP food stamps, child care subsidies, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and various benefit programs overseen by Social Security.

COVID is another topic on the agenda. One study compares the financial impact of the pandemic on early retirement for different income groups with the patterns in the aftermath of the Great Recession more than a decade ago. Another study examines how mortality rates might change in the wake of the pandemic.

Research on many other topics will also be featured, including health insurance, mothers, and longevity. The agenda and information about registration are posted online. Registration is free. …Learn More

Remote Work Has Pushed Up House Prices

Slack, Citizens Bank, Penguin Random House, Verizon, 3M, Twitter – the list is long and growing of companies that have allowed employees to continue working remotely even though the pandemic seems to be easing.

The COVID-19 upheaval in lifestyles – the moving around to larger homes, to the countryside or to an affordable city – is pushing up house prices.

John Mondragon at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and Johannes Wieland at the University of California, San Diego, estimate that remote work fueled a 15 percent rise in house prices over the two-year period that ended in November 2021. That’s more than half of the total price increase for that period, which was a record, the researchers said.

A few different types of lifestyle changes drove the price hikes. But the bottom line is that remote work caused a frenzy of buying activity that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The increase in demand sparked competitive bidding for properties – and prices shot up. And the parts of the country where remote work was more common had significantly larger price increases.

The price increases “reflected a change in fundamentals rather than a speculative bubble,” the researchers concluded.

Soon after the pandemic began, workers who were changing their living arrangements made the news. Renters left behind expensive apartments in New York or San Francisco to escape COVID’s dangers. Now working remotely, they used their newfound freedom to become first-time homeowners in an appealing suburb nearby or a rural area halfway across the country where they could afford to buy a house.

The need for larger homes also heated up market activity. Having more space was suddenly more valued by workers who required an additional bedroom to set up a home office or now had to accommodate both spouses working from home – and, early in the pandemic, children attending classes on Zoom.

The researchers stress that they measured only the price increases resulting from an increase in aggregate housing demand nationwide. In other words, people didn’t add to total demand if they simply moved from Chicago, where they sold a condominium, to Des Moines, Iowa, where they purchased a house of similar value. …Learn More

COVID Hasn’t Pushed Boomers into Retiring

Three months into the pandemic, a few million older workers had been laid off or quit. But what happened next?

The rapid drop in employment due to COVID gave the Center for Retirement Research an unusual opportunity to study the labor force decisions of baby boomers, who are within striking distance of retirement age but may or may not be ready to take the leap.

Traditionally, older workers who left a job tended to retire. But there was little indication that the people who stopped working during the pandemic saw retirement as their best fallback option.

This conclusion by the researchers is consistent with the pre-COVID trend of boomers working longer to put themselves in a better financial position when they eventually do retire. In fact, many older workers have returned to the labor force as the economy has rebounded and vaccines have become widely available.

Little impact on older workers retiringBut in April 2020, job departures spiked before settling back down at a new, much higher level. The annual pace of departures increased from 15 percent of workers 55 and over in 2019, prior to COVID, to 23 percent in 2020.

The researchers found a surprise when they looked at who stopped working. Although older people are vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from COVID, age wasn’t a big factor in their decisions. Boomers in their 60s were no more likely to leave their jobs than people in their mid- to late-50s, according to the analysis of monthly Census Bureau surveys.

The groups most likely to leave the labor force were women, Asian-Americans, and workers who either don’t have a college degree or don’t have a job that easily lends itself to working remotely.

But among all of the age 55-plus workers in the study, the share reporting that they had retired barely increased, from an average of 12 percent prior to COVID to 13 percent last year.

The only people who left their jobs and retired in significant numbers during the pandemic were over 70. This finding reinforced what the researchers found in data from the U.S. Social Security Administration: the pandemic didn’t have a major impact on retirement because the share of workers between 62 and 70 who signed up for Social Security was relatively flat between April 2019 and June 2021. …Learn More