Report: Almost 6 in 10 New York Seniors Struggling to Pay for Basic Needs, Condition Worsening

Majority of elderly women living in worsening economic situation as high rents and utility costs consume most of their income
November 24, 2015

ALBANY, NEW YORK – A new report by two leading advocacy groups working on women and elderly issues shows that as many as 80% of single elderly women living alone are struggling to pay for their basic needs and overall almost 6 in 10 senior citizens are under economic distress. The data was made public during a NYS Assembly multi-committee hearing to examine rising poverty rates for senior citizens.

The report, released by the NY Statewide Senior Action Council and Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) finds that New York seniors face an array of economic security challenges—rising food, health care and housing costs, long-term care needs, a soft labor market and others. To better capture and understand the challenges faced by New York’s seniors, their families, and state and local governments, StateWide and WOW have calculated the Elder Economic Insecurity Rates (EEIRs) —the proportion of fully retired seniors whose incomes fall short of the Elder Economic Security Standard (EESS) index, a measure of the income retired adults require to meet basic monthly expenses and age in place in their communities. The EESS Index defines economic security as monthly or annual income needed to meet these basic expenses without borrowing, relying on gifts from family and friends, or relying on public assistance programs.

According to Maria Alvarez, Executive Director of New York Statewide Senior Council, Inc., "The results of this report highlight the importance of not only preserving, but strengthening the safety net programs which keep older New Yorkers living in their homes and communities. When our elder's incomes are not adjusted to the cost of living, the realities can be very dire. With baby boomers joining the rank of the older population, social services, community supports, and economic programs become even more important for the strength and stability of the community in general. Programs under the NYS Elder Law and the Older Americans Act - nutrition, transportation, senior housing, employment, counseling, and elder abuse prevention, to name a few - become indispensable in ensuring that those who contributed to the prosperity of this state and country continue to thrive.

The statewide EEIR for NYS senior households is 58%. More than half of New York households comprised of either one or two retired seniors lack the incomes that would provide economic security and insulate them against poverty as they age.

Major findings of the report indicate:

  • New York elders who live alone are much more likely than elder couples to live in insecurity. The EEIR is 67% for single elder households and 39% for elder couple households.
  • EEIRs are highest for elder renters. More than 80% of New York elder renter households live in insecurity; 54% of elder homeowners with mortgages and 41% of elder homeowners without mortgages live in insecurity.
  • Elder women experience high insecurity rates. Fifty-eight percent of New York’s senior women lack security incomes. Seventy percent of single elder women and 58% of single elder men living alone lack security incomes.
  • EEIRs are high in every area of New York. The overall insecurity rate is highest, at 77%, in the Bronx and Kings County (Brooklyn) and lowest in Seneca County (39%).
  • Among retired elder households, 86% of Hispanic-headed households, 81% of Asian-headed households, and 60% of African-American-headed households lack incomes that allow basic economic security

“This new data, shows with extreme detail the acute predicament faced by the majority of our elderly and supplement the data released earlier this year by the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force on elderly poverty, its pervasiveness and disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities,” stated Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo, chair of the Task Force. “The diligent work to examine this problem by Assembly Committee Chairs Lupardo, Hevesi, Cymbrowitz, Barron and the Task Force promises to bring forth solutions to help address the problems highlighted in this report.”

"Too many seniors all over New York State are unable to afford basic needs such as food, housing and health care, and nowhere is this crisis more evident than in my home borough of Brooklyn, which at 78 percent has the highest rate of economic insecurity in the entire state," said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Aging. "It is imperative that policy-makers on every level use this report to initiate discussion on how to reverse this disturbing trend so that New Yorkers' post-retirement years don't have to be consumed by a daily struggle for basic survival. We owe our seniors much better than that."

“44% of seniors in Broome County face economic insecurity; many are on fixed incomes and live alone, two factors that leave them vulnerable in many ways,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton), Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families. “As we continue to promote economic recovery through a variety of state initiatives, we must ensure that our seniors are not left behind.”

Assemblyman Charles Barron, Chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Community Integration stated, “There is an African Proverb that says: ‘Take care of those who have lost their teeth, for they took care of you when you were teething.’ We must eradicate senior poverty and prioritize protecting and serving them.”

“The findings of this report highlight the severe vulnerability of New York’s seniors across the demographic spectrum, a reality I find unacceptable. The Elder Economic Security Standard shows just how short our current policies are falling, we must take action to revise our approach and ensure adequate protection and care for all our seniors,” declared Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, Chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Outreach and Oversight of Senior Citizen Programs.

“Seniors with incomes below the local Elder Index are likely to make difficult spending choices, to go without one or more basic need, and to have trouble remaining in their homes as they age or their health declines. While insecurity or the threat of insecurity affects elders of all backgrounds, EEIRs vary greatly by location, household type, housing type, race and gender,” added Alvarez.

According to the report, “Poverty rates alert us to destitution, and changes in poverty rates suggest change in the economy and indicate how well policy is, or is not, helping the neediest among us. But the federal poverty guidelines are an antiquated, one-size-fits-all measure that tells us little about those living in poverty and nothing about the thousands of New York seniors whose incomes exceed the poverty guidelines but do not allow them to escape the shadow of poverty. Data and research based on the poverty guidelines fail to capture the experiences of seniors who have or are likely to have trouble remaining in their homes as health declines and/or financial resources dwindle.”

The report titled “Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity Among New York Elders” can be found at www.NYSenor.Org.