By Clarence Hightower
The Anti-Poverty Soldier
After a lifetime of working, raising families, and contributing to the success of this nation in countless other ways, senior citizens deserve to retire with dignity. — Charlie Gonzalez
When it comes to the story of aging in America, there are two bottom lines. The first is that everyone is getting older. That of course brings attendant health and mobility issues, as well as added costs. The second bottom line is that a huge proportion of our rapidly aging population simply isn’t going to have the financial resources to live out their lives in independent comfort and security. — Jonathan Walters
ST. PAUL, Minn. (Dec. 28, 2016) — A recent report by the United Health Foundation (UHF) brings good news for senior citizens in Minnesota. The “America’s Health Rankings” initiative reveals poverty among Minnesota’s seniors has steadily declined from 8.3 percent in 2013 to a low of 7.5 percent in 2016. The senior poverty rate, along with other factors, helps to rank Minnesota as the 11th healthiest state for seniors to live.
In contrast, the national poverty rate among seniors has slightly increased during the same time period from 9.3 percent to 9.5 percent, a full two percentage points higher than Minnesota. And while Minnesota seniors score high on most poverty-related indicators, the UHF report demonstrates they struggle with access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), dedicated Health Care Providers, pain management, and other health and community-based supports.
Furthermore, as is the case with age groups in Minnesota, there are rampant racial disparities that exist among the state’s senior population. For example, nearly one-third of Minnesota’s black seniors live in poverty making them more than four-and-a-half times more likely to be poor than white seniors. Likewise, the state’s Hispanic and Asian seniors are both nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to live in poverty than their white peers.
When considering the general well-being of Minnesota’s seniors relative to other states and in spite of its racial and ethnic inequities, another report from the Minnesota Budget Project announces that “appearances are deceiving.” This report suggests that while the overwhelming majority of Minnesota’s elderly population lives above the federal poverty line, far too many still struggle “to make ends meet.” The report further notes that some seniors are spending upwards of 60 percent of their income toward housing, which classifies them as severely cost-burdened.
Newly released data from the Minnesota State Demographic Center (SDC) bolsters this assertion indicating that nearly 30 percent of Minnesota seniors live at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. And, when the SDC utilizes the supplemental poverty measure designed by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC), then 42% of the state’s seniors fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. In essence, this means that more than one-third of Minnesota seniors though not officially poor, are classified as low-income.
So it is pretty clear, that regardless of race or ethnic background, far too many of our most venerated citizens are struggling to get by each day across the state. And while many of them live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, a disproportionate number of poor seniors live in rural areas including the central, northwest, and extreme southwest and southeast parts of the state.
There are a myriad of additional factors that suggest this is a calamity in the making. For one, poor seniors are far less likely to escape poverty than the members of any other age group. Secondly, according to the SDC, approximately 285,000 Minnesotans will turn 65 years of age in the current decade, a number that is “greater than the past four decades combined.”
In fact, by 2030 it is estimated that “more than one in five” Minnesotans will be a senior citizen. Currently, according to Minnesota Compass, approximately one-third of Minnesota seniors live with a disability including nearly two-thirds of all residents that are 85 or older. As the senior population grows, so will the quantity and intensity of challenges that must be overcome in caring for these individuals.
The Minnesota Budget Project accurately indicates that Minnesota’s seniors have generally fared better than the counterparts in most other states because of “policy choices we’ve made.” In preparing for an increasingly older society and addressing racial disparities among seniors, new and innovative policies, programs, and services must be implemented as well. Perhaps the Wilder Foundation’s Minnesota Compass said it best when they wrote:
Communities need to adequately plan for and respond to needs to enable older adults to continue living well, including providing accessible housing, alternative forms of transportation, and adequate health care. There is also a need to recognize the growing number of spouses and family members who serve as informal caregivers. They require support, resources, and respite from providing care to maintain their own health.
Clarence Hightower is the Executive Director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.