Posts Tagged "low income"

Need for Low-Cost Retiree Housing is Urgent

San Francisco is caught in the vortex of two powerful forces: a fast-growing retiree population and rising rents.

Residents over 60 are expected to make up a fourth of the city’s residents by 2030, according to this video project for The San Francisco Standard by Chris Chang, a student in the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate journalism school.

And San Francisco rents, after collapsing during the pandemic as people left the city, are on the rise again. A one-bedroom apartment is going for $3,100 per month – second only to New York City – despite a rent control policy that limits annual rent increases.

A San Francisco retiree with an unusually onerous rent burden is Shao Yan-Zhen, whom Chang interviewed for the video. The rent soaks up nearly 70 percent of her and her husband’s modest retirement monthly income. They have been on a waiting list for a federally subsidized apartment for two decades and are among the two-thirds of retirees nationwide who qualify for the assistance but can’t get it due largely to a shortage of rental housing. …Learn More

How Disabilities are Tied to Food Insecurity

People with disabilities have high rates of food insecurity because they earn less or can’t work at all. Add to that their unusually large expenses for health care and assistive equipment like wheelchairs and special computers.

But the roots of food insecurity run deeper than just the financial constraints. Even middle-income people with disabilities are more food insecure, which the USDA defines as either deficiencies in nutrition or not having enough to eat.

Part of the problem is where they tend to live, according to a new Urban Institute study. Counties with unusually large disability populations have fewer places to shop for groceries and an oversupply of fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and small grocery stores with limited shelf space. Snack foods and sweet beverages are abundant in these establishments but the selection of fruits, vegetables and lean meats is limited.

A shortage of stores that sell healthy food is a bigger problem in the cities with the highest disability rates than in similar rural areas, the researchers found. But food deserts – a shortage of options for grocery shopping – are more concentrated in the less populated Southeast and Appalachia, as well as rural pockets in Maine, Michigan and New Mexico. The researchers used two sources of disability data: general disability rates in the U.S. Census, as well as data on people with disabilities severe enough to qualify them for Social Security benefits.

Two rural municipalities dramatically illustrate the difference in access to food establishments between areas with high and low disability rates. One in four residents reported having a disability in Hickman, a city tucked into the southwestern corner of Kentucky. But Hickman has fewer than three establishments that sell food for each 1,000 residents.

At the other extreme, Billings, Montana’s disability rate is half that of Hickman’s and there are 13 food establishments per 1,000 residents. …Learn More

Retirement’s a Struggle? Get a Boommate!

Soaring apartment rents and widowed or divorced baby boomers with spare bedrooms and inadequate retirement income – these two trends have conspired to drive up the number of boomers seeking roommates.

New listings being posted by homeowners between January and June on Silvernest, a website where boomers can search for potential roommates, doubled to 2,331 compared with the first six months of 2021, said Riley Gibson, president of Silvernest. Women account for two-thirds of the listings.

The end of the crisis phase of the pandemic and the availability of protective vaccines may have something to do with the recent surge in people being willing to share housing. And with rents up 14 percent in a year, renters – whether boomers or young adults – are looking for affordable options. “We often see [young] people are looking for an exchange for less rent – help around the house,” Riley said.

Millions of retirees still live alone and aren’t willing to let a roommate invade their space. Yet Jennifer Molinsky at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that more than 1 million older Americans currently live with non-family members.

Finding a “boommate” has multiple benefits. In this PBS video, what motivated Becky Miller, a retired receptionist, to find a roommate was the need to defray the cost of maintaining her home. But by renting to a fellow boomer, Debra Mears, Miller found more than just financial relief.

By sharing her home, she also found companionship. …Learn More

Enhancement to Savers Tax Credit is Minor

The Savers Tax Credit sounds great on paper. Low-income people get a federal tax credit for saving money for retirement.

But this part of the tax code always seems to disappoint.

The House recently overwhelmingly passed a bill, the Secure Act 2.0, that – along with numerous other retirement provisions – makes the savers credit more generous for some low-income workers.

Under current law, taxpayers can get one of three credits – 10 percent, 20 percent, or 50 percent of the amount they save in a 401(k). The Secure Act, which is now headed for the Senate, would somewhat increase the top income levels for the 50 percent credit – from $20,500 currently to $24,000 for single taxpayers and from $41,000 to $48,000 for married couples. The dollar value of the caps on their credits would remain at the current $1,000 and $2,000, respectively.

The House bill would also eliminate the 10 percent and 20 percent credits for higher-income workers and begin phasing out the dollar caps once taxpayers exceed the $24,000 and $48,000 income levels.

The proposed tweak to the tax structure “is not a dramatic change to who gets the credit,” said Samantha Jacoby, the senior tax legal analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The House also failed to fix the fundamental flaw in the savers credit: it is non-refundable. This means workers who don’t owe any taxes don’t qualify. Without refundability, Jacoby and Chuck Marr write in a recent report, the House bill “ignores a critical reason why so few people with low and moderate incomes claim the credit.”

Disappointment with the tweaks to the savers credit is apparent in the context of the entire bill, which gives much more to higher-income people. For example, the House increased the age that taxation of 401(k) withdrawals kicks in from 72 to 75. Some retirees with modest incomes will tap their savings long before that and won’t benefit from the provision.

“Overwhelmingly, the people who will benefit from this bill are the people who are higher income and already have secure retirements,” Jacoby said.

Another barrier to use of the savers credit is a lack of awareness that it exists. The share of tax filers who claim the credit has increased in the past 20 years but still hasn’t reached 10 percent, according to a report by Transamerica Institute. …Learn More

Mental Health Crisis is an Inequality Problem

The connection between Americans’ socioeconomic status (SES) and their health was established long ago and the evidence keeps piling up.

"Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health" book coverLess-educated, lower-income workers suffer more medical conditions ranging from arthritis to obesity and diabetes. And the increase in life expectancy for less-educated 50-year-olds was, in most cases, roughly 40 percent of the gains for people with higher socioeconomic status between 2006 and 2018.

More recently researchers have connected SES and mental health. The foundations are laid in childhood. In one study, the children and teenagers of parents with more financial stresses – job losses, large debts, divorce, or serious illness – have worse mental health. And COVID has only aggravated the nation’s mental health crisis.

In a new book, Dr. Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is concerned about the impact of inequality.

Mental health in disadvantaged communities “is worse because of the world outside of health care. It’s our housing crisis, our poverty crisis, our racial crisis, our increasing social disparities that weigh heaviest on those in need,” he writes in “Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health.” …Learn More

Low-Income Retiree Gets Financial Coach

Every state should have what Delaware has: a program that helps low- and moderate-income seniors find a financial survival strategy.

Stand by me logoSince it opened in 2013, the program, Stand by Me 50+, has connected more than 2,300 older residents – mostly retirees – with federal and state aid programs, advised them of Social Security’s rules, and helped them pay medical bills or eliminate debt. The services are free.

Kathleen Rupert, a financial coach and head of the organization, helped one man in his 70s pay off $13,000 in debt. Another retiree doubled his income from Social Security after she determined that he was eligible for his late wife’s $1,700 benefit. About 44 percent of the program’s clients have monthly income of $1,500 or less.

“We go wherever the need is – to senior housing, senior centers, community centers, libraries,” she said. “We set up appointments at Panera Bread or Hardee’s – wherever they’re available.”

Squared Away interviewed three clients who said the financial solutions they got from the program have given them peace of mind. Here is the first client’s account of how Stand by Me 50+ helped her.

Peggy Grasty with great granddaughters, Aaliyah Gale and Quamiylah Sease.Peggy Grasty with great granddaughters, Aaliyah Gale and Quamiylah Sease.

Peggy Grasty retired in 2010 after two decades at Elwyn, a non-profit social services agency where she was a supervisor and worked with people with mental disabilities. She continues to help people – voluntarily. The 71-year-old takes other retirees under her wing who need assistance because they have trouble walking or aren’t as capable as her.

She initially contacted Stand by Me because she couldn’t make ends meet. She has a comfortable, federally subsidized apartment in Wilmington, Delaware. But her income is limited to a $1,500 Social Security check and a $53 pension from a job long ago waxing floors and driving a bus for a Pennsylvania middle school.

Stand by Me got help for Grasty through two programs: federal SNAP food stamps and a Delaware non-profit that pays low-income residents’ medical bills. By doing this type of work, the program addresses a real need. Although myriad financial assistance programs are available for low-income workers and retirees, they are frequently unaware of the programs, assume they don’t qualify, or may need help navigating the application process. …Learn More

People of different ages and nationalities

Workers: Social Security Info is Eye-Opening

Most workers have never created an online my SocialSecurity account to get an estimate of their future retirement benefits. The people who do use this feature tend to be older or are retired and already receiving their benefits.

If only more younger adults would log on.

One 31-year-old worker, after looking up his personal estimate for the first time, learned that his future benefit is “not quite nearly enough to survive on.” The estimate – retrieved during an interview with researchers for a new study – prompted him to think about a retirement plan now. A 43-year-old woman realized her spouse’s decision about when to retire would affect her spousal benefit from Social Security. “I had no idea,” she said, calling the information “a reality check.”

And it’s a good thing one 60-year-old logged on to my Social Security. He didn’t know he qualified for retirement benefits, because the last time he’d checked, he had not built up the earnings record – 40 quarters of work – the program requires. “I will look into it further and find out exactly what is going on,” he said.

These and other revelations came from interviews with 24 workers by University of Southern California researchers Lila Rabinovich and Francisco Perez-Arce. They combined these insights with a much larger, online survey to analyze how Americans use the valuable benefit estimates available to them.

It’s important to understand why my Social Security isn’t being used more, especially since first-time users described the online feature as easy to use and eye-opening. Going online didn’t seem to be an issue either, because the people in the survey already search for other information that way.

One of the primary reasons the workers hadn’t looked up their personal accounts, the researchers concluded, was a lack of awareness the feature existed. But this isn’t at all surprising for younger workers, who are more concerned about developing their careers than about retiring. …Learn More