By Toni Lynn Davis MHA, CNHA, FACHCA
Preparing for retirement is a clarion call messaged everywhere you look, in bank and investment firm’s television commercials, in government legislation, by our accountants and our families who wonder how to care for us in our old age. Studies show that Social Security benefits into which working Americans have paid since 1935 is under significant liquidity pressure and may not be available to seniors in the future. The cost of living in most of the country in not met with social security payments alone leaving seniors increasingly living in poverty.
“There are approximately 6.5 million people age 65 and over living in poverty in America today,” says Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director, The National Senior Citizens Law Center, in an article for The Blog on Huffington Post.com.
New Jersey is one of the five lowest states in retirement earnings to meet the recommended goal of 70% of a person’s working earnings, said the Star-Ledger, in an October 10, 2014 article. New Jersey has the second highest median income in the country, a gain that is offset by having the third highest cost of living after Connecticut and California. As calculated by the livingwage.mit.edu index, a New Jersey family of four must earn $45,000 to be above the poverty level. The 2014 Federal poverty level released by the Department of Health and Human Services for a family of four is $23,850 in the US. New Jersey residents may earn more but they spend much more and save less for retirement than those living in less expensive states.
Poverty rates in New Jersey rose from 10.8% in 2012 to 11.4% in 2013. (The Star-Ledger 9/18/14) Nearly 1,000,000 people live in poverty in New Jersey. The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation reported on May 20, 2013 that in 2011, 14% of New Jersey elders lived under the supplemental poverty level, which includes consideration of healthcare costs when determining income, the second highest in the nation.
There are programs that do help lift seniors out of poverty, and provide them with a more secure and healthy life. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have had a dramatic effect on reducing senior poverty in this country. Keeping these programs funded and secure is of the utmost importance. Making sure legislation keeps up with the changing nature of senior living, the increasing cost of living, longer lives, healthcare advancements, aging in place or in senior housing, and long term care facilities are all important elements to be considered when keeping these programs relevant and functioning. “Without Social Security nearly half of all seniors would be poor,” says Prindiville.
Support for the H.R.1601 — Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2013-2014 that increases eligibility, and addresses income and support disparities annually after 2015 would be a good first step in that direction. The bill is listed on Congress.gov with the latest action of two readings in the Senate Finance committee and referred to the Committee on Finance on 3/06/14. Call your Senators and Congresspersons to support this bill.
Education and programs to prepare for retirement and ones seniors years is also important. At Green Hill we provide a series of seminars during the year to address financial issues as well as medical issues associated with aging. Working with and supporting advocacy groups for seniors like Leading Age, and The National Senior Citizens Law Center, or senior advocacy groups in your community is an effective way to participate.
Ensuring our seniors reside in residences where their income, whether from social programs or private funds can support a healthy and secure lifestyle is paramount. Working with non-profit agencies that provide food, funding, social experiences and healthcare for seniors living at, or below, the poverty level is imperative. Supporting non-profit senior long-term care residences like Green Hill also provides security and quality of life for our seniors citizens. At Green Hill we provide Care for Life. An elder who makes their home with us is never turned away when their financial situation changes, or Medicaid benefits become their sole means of support.
While planning for ones senior years it is important to save aggressively for retirement and older age. The golden years are lasting longer than ever for most of us. In the period of 2003 to 2005 the average life expectancy was 83.2 years, with 10.4 disability-free years and 7.8 disabled years expected after age 65, (US news.com). Ten years later life expectancy is closer to 85 years of age with an increase in less than able years expected. With households of 65 years of age and older adults in the US living on an average of only $37,847 per year the message is loud and clear for middle-aged people who follow closely behind. We need to listen to the call, save what we can, invest wisely and provide much need resources and advocacy for seniors in our communities. *(Money.cnn.com)