Jan now lives in a group home, sharing a room with eight other women. She subsists on a measly $100 per month—all that's left for her after Social Security and Medicare are put towards the costs of her housing and care. She says that's far from enough to cover her daily subsistence and medical needs that are not covered by Medicare.
But that's all Jan has these days because the preparations she made over the course of decades have been wiped out in the country's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"I would like to know what you are doing about it," Jan says angrily at a recent forum hosted by the Greenlining Institute, a non-profit national policy, organizing, and leadership institute working for racial and economic justice. The conference aimed to address the growing economic crisis facing the elderly folks such as Jan.
"I did everything right," Jan told the attendees at the forum. "I prepared for my future and this is where I ended up."
Jan is not alone in her dilemma.
In a Health Policy Research Brief prepared by INSIGHT Center for Community Development—a national research, consulting, and legal organization dedicated to building economic health in vulnerable communities—there are nearly half a million elders in California alone who cannot make ends meet.
More than one-fourth of Californians aged 65 and older live alone, and half of them had incomes below the Elder Index, which measures how much income is needed for a retired, elderly adult to meet their basic needs, including housing, food, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation and other necessary spending.
In Los Angeles County, the Elder Index is pegged at $23,000 per year, and more than 312,000 elders are trying to survive below that income level.
The California Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index) is a new tool that quantifies how much income is needed for a senior with a given living arrangement and geographic location to adequately meet his or her basic needs living in the community. It is the only elder-specific financial measure of its kind, and based on credible, publicly available sources for all 58 California counties. It was calculated using actual cost data (housing, food, health care, transportation, and other basic expenses) for older adults living alone and for couples.
"Economic insecurity for the elderly is caused mostly by the high cost of basic necessities and inadequate income prompting them to make untenable choices detrimental to them," said Dr. Brad Bagasao, who serves as program development director for the Filipino-American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI), non-profit organization that is located in the Historic Filipinotown district of Los Angeles and focused on promoting the physical health and mental wellbeing of underserved low-income seniors.
Elders of all ethnicities are struggling to meet the high costs of living in Los Angeles, but elders of color—who typically earn less than white people throughout their working lives and who often don't have pensions and 401Ks to supplement their Social Security income—have been hit particularly hard.
"It doesn't help that California's financial deficit is forcing Sacramento to cut off essential programs for the elderly," said Laura Trejo, general manager of the Los Angeles City Department of Aging, an agency that's expected to see budget cuts.
Elders also face the risks of financial abuse, an increasing trend, with seniors being lured into investments or agreements that are unsuitable or outright frauds, according to Assemblymember Mike Eng.
Eng, a Democrat who represents the 49th District, told the crowd at the forum about his own experience regarding the economic vulnerability of the elderly, combining a cautionary tale with a call for steps to increase the ability of seniors to spot a scam.
"My mother was somehow approached by someone who convinced her, due to her financial insecurity, to sign a power of attorney which basically put all her financial assets in the power of one person who apparently refuses to disclose what the plans will be and where the assets are," Eng said. "It is this lack of economic literacy which many people are preying on."
Miko Santos is an editor at Asian Journal.
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