The elderly are one of the demographics hit hardest by the recession and the ensuing downturn. But things could be getting even worse for them still. As campaigning politicians promise to cut government benefit programs, a new study suggests that many of the nation’s elderly could not survive without them. The study breaks down which states have the largest gap between elderly income, if benefits were removed from the equation, and the basic expenses of living.
Elderly short by 28 percent
The joint study, entitled “Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans,” was released on March 1 by by the Gerontology Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston and the advocacy group Wider Opportunities for Women, or WOW.
The report concludes that, on an average, elderly households, should they be stripped of income from government social programs, would fall $5,228 short of making basic needs — that is, short by a hefty 28 percent.
Varies from state to state
But the disparity between elderly income and cost of expenses differs great from state to state. The largest gap was in Massachusetts, where the average elderly household falls $10,248 — or just less than 40 percent — shy of needed expenses each year.
Of the 51 regions included in the study — all 50 states, plus DC — Alaska came in at the bottom. In other words, it showed the least disparity between household income — sans benefits — and needed expenses. Alaskan seniors saw only a loss of 4 percent — or about $1,068 per year — between what they make and what they need to spend.
Generally speaking, states with the least population density seemed to be the best places to grow old, should social security and medicare disappear. Montana was number 50 on the list and Utah was 49.
The east coast states, which have the densest populations and highest costs of living, were the worst places to grow old. Massachusetts was closely followed by Washington, D.C., and New York.
More than half of entitlements budget
The report points out how important the benefits from government social programs are for the households of the elderly. The study found that 25 percent of all households that contained one or more residents over the age of 65 get about 65 percent of their income from social security.
The cost of federal benefits for the elderly is a large chunk of the federal money allocated for entitlements. In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it took a hefty $519 billion — or 53 percent — in 2010. Is it little wonder that wealthy politicians, campaigning with promises of cutting expenses, would go after these entitlements as an easy target for reduction?
Honoring a promise
However, baring in mind that these are the very citizens who have paid the most into a system that many of them also defended, some may ask if we can, as a civilized nation, afford not to honor their lifetime of effort?