1 in 3 Michigan seniors can't afford basics, study says

July 20, 2011

Michigan's older adults are more likely to be poor and at greater risk of not being able to afford their basic living expenses than U.S. Census data indicate. According to a recent analysis by the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology's Seniors Count! project, 37 percent of Michigan's seniors are living at or below a level of basic economic security. Many of these older adults dwell in the state's seemingly well-to-do suburbs. Yet they struggle financially – not to purchase vacations and luxury vehicles – but to buy the basic food, housing, transportation and medical care needed to survive.

"This invisible poverty is all around us," explained Thomas Jankowski, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate director of research at Wayne State University's Institute of Gerontology. In Oakland County, home to Bloomfield Hills (one of the five wealthiest suburbs in the U.S.), one of every three people over age 65 is unable to meet basic living expenses. "As more people live longer, this will worsen," he said.

Jankowski and his team unearthed these statistics by applying the Elder Standard™ Index (Elder Index) to Michigan population data. The Elder Index measures economic security by producing a snapshot of basic expenses in retirement, including housing, health care, food, transportation, other essentials and long-term care when needed. While 17 states have adopted the Elder Index, only Michigan was able to apply data from the Seniors Count! project to the index and spotlight the high percentage of the state's seniors who fall short of this critical income benchmark.

Since 2008, Seniors Count! has undertaken the complex task of collecting and mining secondary databases in Southeast Michigan to make user-friendly statistics on older adults available to the public. The team's sophisticated applications allowed them to apply the Elder Index to specific population data to determine the economic status of Michigan's seniors. Their results paint a dark picture of 37 percent of Michigan's older adults being economically vulnerably versus the 9.7 percent poverty rate identified by U.S. Census Bureau data. Much of this discrepancy is due to the Census using only a narrow list of living expenses weighted toward food costs rather than the broad indices of the Elder Index.

The Seniors Count! analysis confirms that many of Michigan's older middle-class residents are barely able to pay basic bills and are on the tipping point of economic insecurity. "Middle-class retirement is eroding," said Kate White, executive director of Elder Law of Michigan, the nonprofit provider of legal advice and services that made the Elder Index available in Michigan. "These people worked hard and saved what they could, but now they are aging into poverty," she said. Even in Michigan counties with the lowest rates of economic insecurity, more than one in four seniors struggle to pay expenses each month.

Given these statistics, Stacy Sanders of Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) is opposed to entitlement cuts for seniors. "Suggested cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, at a time when Americans of all ages are struggling to afford their bills, threaten the economic security of today's older adults and future generations," she said. Sanders directs WOW's Elder Economic Security Initiative, a national campaign to integrate an elder economic security framework and tools, including the Elder Index, into aging policies and programs. "A national strategy for deficit reduction should protect these core programs, the basic building blocks of economic security at all stages of life," she said.

"Invisible Poverty: New Measure Unveils Financial Hardship in Michigan's Older Adult Population," is the third working paper released by Seniors Count!, a research collaboration between the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University and the non-profit community agency Adult Well-Being Services, which supports the health and independence of older adults in Michigan. Count! collects, analyzes and interprets secondary data on the demographics, economics and social behavior of older adults in the seven counties of southeast Michigan. Through their website, www.seniorscount.org, this user-friendly data is made available to planners, service providers, policymakers, advocates for and the general public.

The Elder Index was tabulated for Elder Law of Michigan by the Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston and WOW as part of WOW's national Elder Economic Security Initiative.

Explore further: Report shows federal poverty guidelines leave state's seniors destitute

Related Stories

American seniors living longer on less, study

January 28, 2009

Older Americans have experienced huge, negative financial shifts that now make it more difficult to enter retirement with sustainable economic security, a new study finds. Seventy-eight percent of all senior households are ...

New report shows seniors' economic security falling

July 19, 2011

Outliving one's resources and falling into poverty is an increasingly common experience among today's senior citizens, according to a new report produced jointly by the Heller School's Institute on Assets and Social Policy ...

Recommended for you

Science: Public interest high, literacy stable

October 28, 2016

While public interest in science continues to grow, the level of U.S. scientific literacy remains largely unchanged, according to a survey by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Experts uncover hidden layers of Jesus' tomb site

October 27, 2016

In the innermost chamber of the site said to be the tomb of Jesus, a restoration team has peeled away a marble layer for the first time in centuries in an effort to reach what it believes is the original rock surface where ...

Important ancient papyrus seized from looters in Israel

October 27, 2016

(Phys.org)—Eitan Klein, a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has announced that an important papyrus document dated to 2,700 years ago has been seized from a group of Palestinian looters who reportedly ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 20, 2011
I come form MI its never a good sign when 8 out of ten houses go up for sale on your block. At least I dont live in Flint where drive by shootings are just background noise to someone getting raped.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.