August 4, 2020
Financial Survival of Low-Income Retirees
Watch these six videos and walk in the shoes of low-income older Americans. It’s an arduous journey.
Social Security is the primary or only source of income for the retirees who agreed to be interviewed for the videos. Since their income doesn’t cover their expenses, they live with family, frequent the Salvation Army, and continually stress about money.
“You’re lucky if you come out even or a little behind” at the end of the month, said Howard Sockel. The 81-year-old resident of Skokie, Illinois, supports two sons – one with autism and one unemployed – on his Social Security, a small Post Office pension, and credit cards.
The older workers who were interviewed are on the same road to a difficult retirement. Cathy Wydra, who was 64 when the videos were made, shares the expense of a two-bedroom apartment in a Chicago suburb with her daughter and grandson and sleeps on an inflatable mattress.
“It’s a little scary. I think, am I going to be able to retire in two years?” she says.
One out of three older people can’t cover their costs comfortably, often because they lack savings, said Sarah Parker with the Financial Health Network, which produced the videos in conjunction with AARP Foundation and Chase. “You often have to rely on debt, and that’s a very precarious financial situation to be in,” she said.
The video topics are: “When Fixed Incomes Fall Short,” “All in the Family,” “The Caregiver Conundrum,” “A Shock to the System,” “When Retirement Won’t Work,” and “Good Advice Never Gets Old.”
Some of the retirees admitted to making strategic mistakes around their retirement finances. Many other people have made these same mistakes, but they are catastrophic for people who were already on shaky ground. Verner Reid, a former Chicago teacher, was forced to retire when she became ill. Rather than a teacher’s pension, she took a lump sum and is now short on funds – “the mistake of my life.” …
June 4, 2020
Money, Virus Angst Combine for Low-Paid
There’s COVID-19 stress, and then there’s money stress. The combination of the two is becoming too much for many low-income workers to bear.
Two out of three people in families that earn less than $34,000 a year told the U.S. Census Bureau in April that they are “not able to control or stop” their worrying several days a week or more. The feelings are the polar opposite for families earning more than $150,000: two out of three of them said they are not worried at all.
The daily blast of pandemic news has pushed U.S. inequality into the spotlight, exposing the financial pressures low-income Americans are dealing with. Despite the unprecedented $3 trillion in financial assistance passed by Congress, the anxiety was probably a contributing factor in the protests that erupted in dozens of U.S. cities last week.
When governors shut down their economies to control the pandemic, the lowest-income workers – disproportionately African-American and Latino – had barely recovered from the previous recession. Yet nearly half of the increase in incomes for all U.S. families over the past decade has gone to the 1 percent of families with the highest earnings. One glaring example of this disparity is homeownership, which is usually the largest form of wealth by the time people reach retirement age. Homeownership rates across the board declined after the financial crisis, but African-American and Latino rates fell more and are still below 2007 levels.
Low-income workers are now bearing the brunt of the current downturn. Economists estimate the true U.S. unemployment rate could be as high as 20 percent. The layoffs have been concentrated among low-wage workers: nearly 40 percent of people living in households earning less than $40,000 have lost their jobs.
The fundamental challenge of surviving from day to day is evident in the miles-long lines of cars at some U.S. food banks. About a third of Americans are having problems paying for all kinds of essentials – rent, utilities, or food – but the number rises to almost half for African-Americans and Latinos, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in mid-May. Children are being disproportionately impacted by rising food insecurity.
Spotty health care coverage is another layer of stress. Workers on the front lines in nursing homes, meat processing plants and grocery stores are more at risk of contracting COVID-19 but less likely to have health insurance from their employers. They may avoid seeing a doctor, even if they have symptoms, out of fear of being unable to afford the charges. …Learn More
February 18, 2020
Electric Bills and Financial Survival
Timing is everything for low-income people who rely on federal benefits to survive.
For example, retirees who receive their Social Security checks early in the month and spend the money before the bills come in are more prone to fill the gap with high-cost payday loans than people who get their checks a few weeks later, a 2018 study found. New research in a similar vein shows that timing also matters for individuals who receive food aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
When the electricity bill arrives on or within a day of the monthly SNAP benefit, the lowest-income customers in this study were much less likely to have a past due bill or to have their power cut off than customers whose bills arrive well after their benefits.
The timing is crucial, because SNAP supplies between 10 percent and 25 percent of household incomes up to 35 percent above the federal poverty level. When the government loads each month’s food benefit onto the card, it frees up money for high-priority bills coming due at the same time, including utilities.
This study took place in an unidentified New England state where recipients’ SNAP debit cards are refilled on the first day of every month.
After following the SNAP recipients for a full year, the researchers also found that the unpaid balances they had accumulated after 12 months were smaller if the bills coincided with the SNAP-card deposits. The advantages of a well-timed electricity bill were greatest in the poorest neighborhoods, the researchers said. …
January 23, 2020
Medicaid Expansion has Saved Lives
The recent rise in Americans’ death rates is a crisis for the lowest-earning men. They are dying about 15 years younger than the highest-earners due to everything from obesity to opioids. Women with the lowest earnings are living 10 years less.
But healthcare policy is doing what it’s supposed to in the states that expanded their Medicaid coverage to more low-income people under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): helping to stem the tide by making low-income people healthier.
An analysis by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis, found that death rates have declined in the states that chose to expand Medicaid coverage. The study focused on people between ages 55 and 64 – not quite old enough to enroll in Medicare.
Medicaid has “saved lives in the states where [expansion] occurred,” UC-Davis researchers found. They estimated that 15,600 more lives would have been saved nationwide if every state had covered more of their low-income residents.
This is one of many studies that takes advantage of the ability to compare what is happening to residents’ well-being in states that expanded their Medicaid programs with the states that did not. Progress has come on many fronts.
In expansion states, rural hospitals, which are struggling nationwide, have had more success in keeping their doors open. By covering more adults, more low-income children have been brought into the program, which one study found reduces their applications for federal disability benefits as adults. And low-income residents’ precarious finances improved in states where Medicaid expansion reduced their healthcare costs. …Learn More
October 31, 2019
Boomers at 80: Housing Issues to Grow
The baby boom generation is continuing to work its way up the age ladder. The number of Americans over 80 will more than double to nearly 18 million over the next two decades.
And that’s partly because baby boomers are healthier and are living longer – they are also enjoying more of their retirement years free of disability than previous generations. But unfortunately, boomers can’t avoid the inevitability of their growing vulnerabilities and the impact this will have on their day-to-day lives. A new report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies makes some sobering predictions about the issues the oldest retirees can expect to face in the future, from widening income inequality to more people living alone and in isolation.
The findings, taken together, point to a range of potential trouble spots revolving around housing our aging population.
- As people get old, their spouses die, their bank accounts dwindle, and their rents keep rising. For these and other reasons, housing creates more of a cost burden at 80 than at 65. The Harvard housing center defines someone as cost-burdened if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Today, nearly 60 percent of households over 80 fit this definition, and their absolute numbers will increase as more baby boomers reach that age. One place the financial strain shows up is food budgets: retirees who spend disproportionate amounts on housing spend half as much on food as people whose housing costs are under control. …
October 1, 2019
Financial Survival of Low-Income Disabled
A monthly disability check from the federal government is a lifeline for poor and low-income persons with disabilities, but they still face a daily struggle to meet their basic needs and cover their expenses.
In in-depth interviews, 35 low-income people in Worcester, Massachusetts, described how they make ends meet on the disability benefit they get from Social Security, which averages $912 a month and is their largest source of income. Another $300 comes from other forms of public assistance, family support, or minimum-wage jobs, according to a new issue brief by Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy.
The daily struggles that each individual faces are as unique as they are. Here are a few excerpts from the study:
“My rent is subsidized. Plus I work 20 hours a week which is pretty good. I bring home more than one hundred something dollars a week and I get a few dollars in food stamps. So it’s okay.”
“I’m stringing it, managing it, and just barely staying above water. I’ve been treading that water for a long time.”
“My situation is challenging. I sometimes just don’t have enough coming in to make what’s going out.”
Three out of four people in the study told interviewers that they find it very difficult to pay for their housing, food and other basic expenses. A bright spot is that people on federal disability insurance (DI) are also covered by Medicare and/or Medicaid and spend very little on medical care. “I’m getting everything I need,” one individual said about her healthcare. …Learn More
July 30, 2019
Why are White Americans’ Deaths Rising?
Rarely does academic research make a splash with the general public like this did. A grim 2015 study, prominently displayed in The New York Times, showed death rates increasing among middle-aged white Americans and blamed so-called “deaths of despair” like opioid addiction, suicide, and liver disease.
Rising mortality, especially for white people with low levels of education, ran counter to the falling death rates the researchers found for Hispanic and black Americans. The husband and wife team who did the study proposed that “economic insecurity” might be an avenue for research into the root cause of white Americans’ deaths of despair.
A 2018 study took up where they left off and found a connection between economic conditions and some types of deaths. Researchers from the University of Michigan, Claremont Graduate University, and the Urban Institute said poor economic conditions – in the form of local employment losses – have played a role in the rising deaths since 1990 from chronic health problems like cardiovascular disease, particularly among 45 to 54 year olds with a high school education or less. However, they could not establish a connection to the rise in deaths of despair.
In a 2019 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, these same researchers instead focused on what is driving the growing educational disparity in life expectancy trends among whites: life expectancy is rising for those with more education but stagnating or falling for less-educated whites.
As for the health reasons behind this, they found that chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and even cancer are critical to explaining less-educated whites’ life expectancy, and they warned against putting too much emphasis on deaths of despair. In the medical literature, they noted, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers are consistently linked to the “wear and tear” on the body’s systems due to the stress that disadvantaged Americans experience over decades, because they earn less and face adversities ranging from a lack of opportunities and inadequate medical care to substandard living environments. …Learn More