Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report
Wanda Clarke of Los Angeles, 63, was so ashamed of being homeless that she never told her son, in nearby Orange County, that she was living on the streets. Clarke’s husband died and her cashier’s income fell short of covering the mortgage. As independent public broadcaster KCET in Los Angeles reported, she got back on her feet thanks to a program that connected her with an affordable apartment, but there are many older adults like Clarke who are vulnerable to or already living in homelessness.
In Los Angeles County, more than 10,000 people who are 55 or older are homeless, a figure that has more than doubled from a decade ago, according to KCET. Nationally, there are indicators that many older adults are financially insecure.
- 43 percent of single Social Security recipients who are 65 or older, and 21 percent of those who are married, rely on their Social Security benefits for 90 percent or more of their income, according to the Social Security Administration.
- Housing prices are outpacing those older adults’ incomes in some cities. As KCET reported, the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, for example, is $2,000 a month, while the average monthly Social Security benefit in California — which 30 percent of the state’s retirees rely on as their only income — is just $1,224.
- The median debt level for households headed by someone 60 or older more than doubled from 2001 to 2013, to $40,900, according to the National Council on Aging, which compiled Federal Reserve Bank data.
- In a 2015 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45 percent of people 65 and older lived at just 200 percent or less of the “supplemental poverty measure.” Unlike the federal government’s official poverty measure, which is based primarily on food costs and on pre-tax income, its supplemental poverty measure reflects realities such as tax liabilities and credits, out-of-pocket medical costs and in-kind income from things like food stamps. The dollar amount varies by location and home ownership status, but being in the 200 percent range leaves little margin for unexpected expenses.
See the story of Robert, one of L.A’.s older homeless people, in the video below, produced by Mark Horvath, founder of the nonprofit Invisible People, whose goal is to change perceptions of homelessness.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is working to solve the problem of poverty and financial insecurity for older adults. Millions of older people miss out on benefits that could help them cover food, housing, medication and other expenses because they are not aware of support programs for which they quality, the NCOA says. The group’s website includes a downloadable “You Gave, Now Save” guide to those programs.
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