Elderly Americans struggle with economic insecurity

NEW YORK Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:32am EDT

A pair of elderly couples view the ocean and waves along the beach in La Jolla, California March 8, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A pair of elderly couples view the ocean and waves along the beach in La Jolla, California March 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most elderly retired Hispanic, African American and Asians living in the United States have difficulty covering basic daily expenses and have no economic security, new research shows.

Single retired people need between $19,000 to $25,000 a year to cover costs and couples need from $29,000 to $39,000, depending on their health and housing situation, according to the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, which calculates the economic security of older people.

But only about a quarter of older Hispanic, African American and Asian adults have retirement incomes within those ranges research from the non-profit group Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) showed.

"With many people of color working in low wage jobs, they are unable to save for retirement, leading to overwhelming numbers of older African American, Hispanic or Asian Americans who are able to cover their most basic expenses as they age," said Donna Addkison, the president and CEO of Washington DC-based WOW, which promotes policies to help women and low-income families.

An analysis by WOW of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 52 percent of elderly households report incomes that do not provide economic security to cover costs for housing, food, transportation, healthcare and miscellaneous expenses.

For Hispanic retirees the number rises to 76 percent, followed by 74 percent for African Americans and 65 percent for Asians.

Addkison said much of the problem results from lower wages earned during a lifetime which means smaller Social Security benefits, which comprise about 70 percent of income during retirement.

Economic difficulties are even worse for single and retirees, according to the research. Eighty three percent of single Hispanic retirees, 79 percent of African-American retirees and 72 percent of Asians living alone have incomes that don't cover basic needs.

WOW said housing status also has an impact with renter retirees at a greater risk of not making ends meet than people who own their own home.

"Living without income security means having to choose between buying medicine and eating three meals a day, or having gas money and paying rent," said Addkison. "Imagine that three quarters of the senior households in your community are forced to make these decisions every day."

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Paul Casciato)

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