Nearly half a million elders living alone in California cannot make ends meet, lacking sufficient income to pay for a minimum level of housing, food, health care, transportation and other basic expenses, according to a policy brief by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. This number jumps to over 1 million when adding in elders living with family members.
The research for the brief, “Half-Million Older Californians Living Alone Unable to Make Ends Meet,” is based on 2007 data, the last time comprehensive, statewide data was collected. But the numbers of affected seniors are likely to be even higher today as the current recession deepens and as systemic budget cuts in health care and other social service programs are in place for July 1, 2009, with more pending approval of the Legislature.
The brief includes county estimates of the percentage of economically vulnerable seniors. Those estimates show that elder economic insecurity is a problem in both more and less affluent counties: The 2 counties with the highest elder economic insecurity are Imperial and San Francisco.
The findings in the policy brief are based on the Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index) for California, a tool that measures the actual cost of basic necessities for older adults in each of California’s 58 counties. The Elder Index is viewed by many as a more accurate measure of economic security than federal poverty level (FPL) guidelines, a standardized national estimate that does not take into account the cost of living in high-cost states such as California.
Among the findings in the brief:
Most older renters can’t make ends meet
Older renters were more than twice as likely to be economically insecure as those who owned their homes and had paid off their mortgages (70.4 percent of older single renters were insecure, compared with 34.4 percent of homeowners without mortgages).
Latino elders at risk
About 3/4 of Latino elders who lived alone, and almost half of those who lived with only a spouse, could not cover their basic costs of living.
Women at risk
Older women accounted for 72% of all older Californians who lived alone. Those women were more likely than older men to be unable to cover their basic needs (53.5% of women, compared with 44% of men).
The very old at risk
A majority of all single elders aged 75 or older were economically insecure, regardless of ethnicity. More than 90% of female single renters aged 75 and older who were Latino or Asian had incomes below the Elder Index, as did 2/3 of all white single renters and 85% of all African American single renters aged 75 and older.
FPL indicates only half of what is needed
In 2007, the nationwide federal poverty level (FPL), used to determine eligibility for public assistance, was $10,210 for a single adult living alone. According to Elder Index calculations, however, the average minimum income needed by a single older Californian who rented was $21,011.
With so many elders already at risk and unable to make ends meet, the current budget cuts will only exacerbate this situation.
Read our recent article on California’s state budget for more info and how the cuts will affect our state’s elders and people with disabilities.