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Poverty, hunger among retirees increasing

For a growing number of Americans, retirement isn’t
about taking long-overdue vacations or spending long days
in the sun playing golf; it’s about scraping together
enough money to pay for basics like food and housing.

The percentage of older people living below the poverty
line has climbed steadily since 2005, according to a
recent Employee
Benefit Research Institute
study. For Americans ages
65 to 74, poverty rates increased from 7.9 to 9.4 percent
between 2005 and 2009. Among those ages 75 to 84, rates
increased from 7.6 percent to 10.7 percent. Nearly 15
percent of the oldest retirees were living in poverty in
2009.

For many of America’s oldest citizens, living below the
poverty line translates into an empty belly. Over the last
decade, the number of seniors experiencing hunger
increased 80 percent, according to a new report from the
Meals on Wheels Research Foundation.
In 2010, more than one in seven skipped meals because of
lack of money or expressed anxiety about not having enough
food.

Eighty-eight-year-old Miriam Boss had to be hospitalized
because she wasn’t getting enough food. The retired retail
executive from Philadelphia was feeling so faint she kept
falling.

“I never thought anything like this would happen to
me,” Boss told the Philadelphia
Inquirer
. “I have a daughter and grandchildren
and great-grandchildren in Connecticut. They call me and
try to make me happy, but they don’t know I’m
hungry.

Failing health drives poverty among the elderly, according
to Employee Benefit Research Institute. Seventy percent of
retirees who have fallen on hard times have suffered acute
health conditions like cancer or heart problems, compared
to 48 percent of those who live above the poverty line.
Similarly, 96 percent of impoverished senior citizens have
some sort of health condition, such as diabetes or
arthritis. The same is true for just 61.7 percent of their
wealthier peers.

“Medical expenditures go up for the elderly as they age
and medical expenses have been rising over the past decade
very rapidly,” Sudipto Banerjee, a research associate at
EBRI and author of the report, told U.S. News and World Report. “A lot of
people have to move to nursing homes, and nursing homes
are very expensive. People who live there, they lose their
income and assets very quickly.”

Because of the recession, many retirees spent their
retirement savings too quickly, Banerjee said.

“I would expect as the economy does better, the rates will
go down,” he said.