Friday, June 26, 2009

Women and Social Security

This week I attended a webinar sponsored by the National Women’s Law Center on women and Social Security which reiterated the importance of Social Security for elder women.
Here are some important facts shared on the webinar:

  • As a widow, you can choose to take your widow benefit (as a result of your deceased spouse) or your own worker’s benefit first. By waiting to claim benefits until full retirement age, a high earning spouse will provide a large Social Security benefit to the surviving spouse.

  • If your marriage lasted for 10 years and you are currently divorced, you get the same benefits as a current spouse or widow and do not have to wait until your ex-husband applies to receive his benefit, as long as both of you are 62 and have been divorced for at least two years.
Older women in retirement struggle to make ends meet, and older minority women are more likely to have a tough time in retirement. Social Security is the sole source of income for one in five elders, and women are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as a man in their older years. Check out WOW’s Single Elder Women’s fact sheet for more information on how vital Social Security is for so many elder women. Social Security alone is not enough, but without it some elder women would have nothing to support themselves.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Quality Long-term Care Allows Elders to Age in Place

This week, Kristen, the Elder Economic Security Initiative intern, continues the discussion around family care giving by spotlighting a new book on the issue.

The percentage of Americans over age 65 has tripled during the 21st century, but support and funding for this group has not kept pace. The book When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions, by Paula Span, sheds light on this population by telling stories of adult children grappling with the difficult decisions surrounding their parents’ long-term care.

The book gives personal perspectives on long-term care, including home care and facilities. It offers insight for each choice and exposes the emotional and financial burdens that many incur during this transition.

Although the book goes into detail about the struggles that adult children, most often daughters, face when choosing long-term care, Span and others believe that its overall message is hopeful.“If you get depressed about the way things are going in the world, just look at the people caring for their family members… there’s nothing they won’t do!” commented David Ekerdt, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Kansas.

Caring for a family member, however, should not necessitate financial struggles.

Because the majority of seniors wish to age in their communities, the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) illustrates the cost of home and community-based long-term care, and the findings show these expenses can be quite burdensome. For instance, the Minnesota Elder Index shows that home and community-based long-term care can range from $7,262 to $43,798 per year. These costs are in addition to elders’ monthly expenses for basic needs, which can double or triple their total expenses.

On average, Medicaid dollars can support about three older people with home and community-based services (HCBS) for every one person in a nursing home, according to AARP. Adjusting the Medicaid support for HCBS versus institutions can help ensure that more elders can afford to age in their communities. This is an important and growing population that deserves to age with dignity, and spreading information about long-term care could help start a dialogue for improving their support!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Role of a Caregiver

Caregivers have a hard time juggling their multiple responsibilities. As the video above demonstrates, they must make decisions on when and where to work, and how to support their needs, as well as those of their elder relatives. Most of these caregivers are women, who struggle to make ends meet. For them, less hours worked means less collected earnings, which over time will accumulate to less money saved, directly affecting their ability to be economically secure in retirement.

The Elder Economic Security Initiative™ works to ensure elders are able to age in place in their communities. The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index, an Initiative tool, maps out on a county –by- county level what it costs for caregivers to take care of the needs of their elder loved ones (such as food, housing, health care, and transportation) and can be used as a basis for caregiver support though state and federal policy and programs.
The Initiative supports the proposed policy solution, the Elder Caregiver Support and Information Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 519), introduced earlier this year. If signed into law, additional funds would be appropriated to the family caregiver support program.

Make sure you read our featured profile story on a caregiver from Wisconsin who struggled to make ends meet.

We are also interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic. Please comment below.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Feature: Advisory Board Member Martha Holstein

Martha Holstein, an Elder Economic Security Initiative Board Member, from Chicago's Health & Medicine Policy Research Group shares her thoughts on why elder economic security is part of a greater need of solidarity and security across generations.

Divided We Fall: Economic Security and Intergenerational Solidarity

Amidst all the current economic turmoil Social Security and Medicare are there—the only guaranteed source of income one can’t outlive and health care that no one can take away. These guarantees are critical for older people and for their families. If these programs were weakened, needs would have to be met by someone and that someone is most likely one’s sons and daughters. The entire family would lose. We need to think of old age entitlements as family benefits, a contribution to the family commons and absolutely essential to mitigating threats to the health and well-being of the entire family. The family commons implies that we need to share our common goods with each of us not taking more than we need—and sometimes perhaps taking less than we need. Intergeneration solidarity rather than intergenerational equity.

There is another reason to commit to intergenerational solidarity. Research makes it very clear that continuity in life circumstances is prevalent. Rather than these circumstances improving in old age, the older we get the more disadvantaged we become. Known as “cumulative disadvantage” it suggests how powerfully our family’s social and economic status, our education and our related opportunities are not easily overcome. Today, this is particularly unsettling since we know that young men are earning less than their fathers did at the same age. This statistic is apt to worsen as we see the results of the current economic downturn. The foretelling about the future condition of the aged, to be documented in the next generation’s Elder Standard, is a potent reason to act now to make sure that American’s younger families have a better shot at economic security. It is really for all of us!