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Many N.C. seniors live without economic security

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Elder Economic Security Index shows their struggle

Earlier this year, the N.C. Alliance for Retired Americans teamed up with Wider Opportunities for Women to release a report, the 2012 Elder Economic Security Index (EESI), which shows that for many senior citizens in North Carolina, basic needs exceed income. The average senior in North Carolina who rents a one-bedroom dwelling and lives alone needs $21,000 a year to live independently. The numbers vary by county. For example, a senior living in Orange County needs a little over $23,000 to make it on his or her own, while a senior in Surry County can scrape by on a little over $19,000.

“This new report confirms our concerns that seniors in North Carolina are living without economic security in every corner of the state,” said Jim Moore, president of the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans. “From Raleigh to Asheville and everywhere in between, older residents are scrimping and saving just to get by. We’ve become a state where people can’t afford to grow old.”

Click here to read the full report, "Elders Living on Edge" (PDF).

About the EESI

The EESI offers a framework and the tools needed to shape public programs as well as policy to promote the well being of older adults. The initiative provides an index for actual living costs for seniors based on the county that they live in. The EESI covers all 100 counties in North Carolina. The initiative also creates a needed dialogue on policy as well as program changes. The Elder Index measures the amount needed for elders to make ends meet. It accounts for housing, health care, food, transportation, and miscellaneous costs. The important point regarding the gathering of information for the EESI is that the Gerontology Institute only uses public information.

Heather McLaughlin of the N.C. Alliance for Retired Americans, who helped organize the 2012 EESI release day event, told N.C. Policy Watch's Clayton Henkel on the radio program News & Views that the EESI "monitors the rising financial challenges that are threatening the economic security of North Carolina elders."

"Seniors are burdened with increased housing, healthcare, fuel, and utility expenses, but the value of their assets and income are going down. In fact, 1 out of 3 North Carolina seniors rely on Social Security alone. Obviously, that's not enough for seniors to survive on."

Listen to Heather McLaughlin of the N.C. Alliance for Retired Americans talk about the 2012 EESI.

Social Security falls well short of providing economic security

One of the main objectives of the EESI is to show the difference between the Federal Poverty Level and what the actual poverty line for seniors should be based on the EESI findings. The Federal Poverty Level is based on a budget of which one-third of income is spent on food, nothing is spent on healthcare, and cost of living is the same in every state.

The EESI is based on the costs of all needs, not just food. The EESI varies the costs based on life circumstance and factors in health care. Unlike the Federal Poverty Level, the EESI is tabulated not only state by state but county by county basis.

The difference between the two measures is stark. While the poverty level is $10,980, elders who live alone in North Carolina need $20,964 to live in economic security. Having economic security, which too many elders in our state do not have, is the minimum, says Heather:

"This is just basic survival. This is not accounting for seniors if they have a major life circumstance. This doesn't account for any of that. This is food, transportation, and health care."

Social Security does not come close to meeting the need of North Carolina's senior citizens. Average S.S. income for women is just $12,181 and $16,500 for men. For one third of seniors, that is all the income they receive. The shortfall is $8,783 short for women and $4,464 short for men to be able to live securely.

Social Security falls well short of providing economic security for N.C. seniors.

So the next time you hear politicians in Washington, DC talking about how they have to cut Social Security and Medicare - or when lawmakers in Raleigh talk about reducing Medicaid payments - to pay for more tax breaks for corporations and the super-wealthy, you might think twice about whether they understand the needs of average North Carolinians. Click here for more information about the 2012 Elder Economic Security Index.