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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Boomers Aging in Suburban America

Grocery Stores, Grab Bars and 'Golden Girls'
  • June 29, 2016 2016

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

“Golden Girls” Carol Gee, Landa Williams, Paula Gee and dog Ace share a suburban home in Overland Park, Kansas. The three baby boomers moved in together for support and companionship and chose the house because it’s close to local shops and restaurants and has no stairs to climb as they age.

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas, June 29, 2016 — Carol Gee loves her sprawling four-bedroom white ranch house in this Kansas City suburb, she sees herself living in it forever.
Just like the “Golden Girls,” she shares the house with other older, single women. Carol Gee, her sister, Paula, also unmarried and retired, and their close friend Landa Williams, a widow, all are in their mid-60s.
They moved in together for companionship and support. They chose the house because it has lots of room and is a single story, so there are no stairs to climb. Carol Gee purchased it and hired a contractor to add grab bars to the bathrooms and widen hallways and doorways, just in case one of them ends up in a wheelchair.

Someday, they understand, they may not be able to drive. So they made sure to pick a house within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

“We wanted to live near a neighborhood where we could walk to a grocery store and a pharmacy,” Carol Gee said. 

“Any suburb that wants to keep boomers living there, the more little ‘mini-communities’ they can create, the better.”

Unlike many of her baby boomer peers, Gee is planning ahead. But some of the suburban communities where tens of millions of boomers live — and want to remain — are struggling to do the same.

There is much to do. Most of the 75.4 million boomers live in the suburbs. As they get older and can no longer drive, they will need better public transportation.

One study estimated that spending on public transit would have to increase 81 percent, to $8.6 billion, by 2030 to meet the needs of seniors who want to stay in their homes.
Suburban seniors with less money will need more affordable housing within walking distance of grocery stores and doctors. 

Local governments may have to help boomers maintain or repair their homes, or else contend with declining property values and tax revenue.

But seven years after the recession ended local and state budgets across the country are still squeezed. Suburbs, sometimes fragmented communities without a mayor or city council, often lack political muscle at the state level, where important decisions about spending get made.

And getting government agencies that are often siloed to talk to one another about the long-term needs of an older population can be difficult.

“The politicians and elected officials are listening, but I get the sense that they don’t see this as urgent,” said Susan Franklin, who until recently ran the Aging Well Project in Jefferson County, Colorado. 

“We’re at the point where if we don’t get going on some of this stuff, it’s going to be too late.”

Tad McGalliard, research director for the International City/County Management Association, said many officials have a hard time thinking beyond the immediate problems they face every day.

“It’s easier to fill the potholes and keep the water flowing than to think strategically about an older population in 10 to 20 years,” he said.

Mableton (Sort of) Transformed

Mableton, an unincorporated town of 37,000 residents about 12 miles west of Atlanta, was supposed to become a suburb of the future, a place where baby boomers could grow old in apartments and condos designed for them, across the street from family town houses and within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

When regional planners selected Mableton to be a “lifelong community” seven years ago, it was filled with parking lots, decaying strip malls and gas stations.

The town sprawled over 21 square miles, and its historic downtown was dominated by a working-class neighborhood of single-family homes and warehouses, an aging elementary school and some churches.

Not a whole lot has changed.

The county hired an architectural firm in 2010 that held workshops with residents and designed a comprehensive plan with a vibrant town center.

County officials expected developers to snap up the modest homes and warehouses and replace them with a mix of housing, stores and offices clustered around a town green. But Mableton was hit hard by the recession, and the developers never came.  

“It was all very nice, but it’s a plan that hasn’t come to fruition,” said Dave McDaniel, 66, a former treasurer of the Mableton Improvement Coalition, a volunteer civic association that advocates at the county level for better government services. “There was a lot more energy behind it back in those days. Some of that initial enthusiasm has worn off.”

To be sure, there is no guaranteed way for government to encourage private development, and the effort to retrofit Mableton hasn’t been a total failure.

The county in 2011 changed its zoning code to allow more mixed-use housing and pedestrian-friendly development. It built a walking and biking path along a busy commercial strip, and redesigned the new elementary school near the town center to fit the new look envisioned for the downtown.

And it recently completed a $2.2 million project that rerouted a street in the historic town center to make way for a football-sized green space with sidewalks lined by brick edging.

But Mableton has a long way to go.

“The county is not going to build town houses or open shops,” said Robin Meyer, the improvement coalition’s vice president. “And there is nobody in state government who is going to get up every day and say, ‘Here’s this great plan, come build something.’ ”

Other suburbs across the country are also trying to think ahead. 
Regional planners in the Kansas City, Missouri, area would like to see enhanced transit services and mixed-use retail and commercial development, in part to prepare for a graying population.

“It’s not just building communities for the aging boomers. It’s building them for the next century of folks who are going to be aging,” said Cathy Boyer-Shesol, a project manager for the Mid-America Regional Council.

One of those communities is Gladstone, Missouri, which installed new sidewalks and streetlights, added transit stops and joined a regional program that offers flexible, on-demand bus service.

To meet the needs of its aging population, Alexandria, a suburb of Washington, D.C., in northern Virginia, wants to make its streets more pedestrian-friendly, add specialty van transport services and promote housing for seniors near public transit.

Some communities have changed zoning to encourage developers to build new single-family homes using “universal design,” with features such as no-step entry and wider hallways and doorways.

Those standards are mandatory in a few areas, such as Pima County, Arizona, and Bolingbrook, Illinois.

In the Denver area, where one in four residents is expected to be 60 or older by 2040, the suburban community of Wheat Ridge worked with a private developer to demolish a strip mall and turn it into a rental complex for older adults.

And “dead” malls have been retrofitted to create walkable neighborhoods with retail, offices and housing for people of all ages. In Lakewood, another Denver suburb, a developer converted the old Villa Italia Mall into Belmar, a 22-block development filled with restaurants, shops, offices and housing.

Around the country, enclosed suburban malls are being turned into mixed-use town centers, said Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor of architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia.

Fifteen have been redeveloped and more are planned, she said. Most of the projects are public-private partnerships. Government often helps pay for some of the infrastructure, such as street lights or sewers.

But in many suburbs that have been thinking about how to meet the needs of an aging population, the plans are mostly on paper. Making them a reality won’t be easy.

“When you’re looking at transportation and land-use changes, it takes years to get the results of those policy changes into reality at the community level,” said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Markwood and other officials who oversee programs for seniors said an infusion of government money would be great, but that’s not likely to happen. And they point out that the burden of providing services to graying boomers can’t just fall on government — whether it’s local, state or federal.

“Our city isn’t an endless pot of money,” said Karen Adcock, director of senior services for Auburn Hills, a Detroit suburb that was named an “age-friendly community” by the AARP.

“There are support services like Meals on Wheels. But you need to contribute to maintaining your home. It’s not a free ride. Governments can’t do it all. They cannot and they should not.”

Housing for the Future

To stay in the suburbs, many boomers will have to find solutions that don’t rely on government help. Carol Gee and her housemates think they’ve done just that. 

“At the end of the day, the huge psychological benefit of living together so outweighs the antsy-pantsy things you’ve got to compromise on with housemates,” Gee said.

“We’re trying to create an environment that will work for us till our 90s and beyond.”

Another alternative some boomers are choosing is called cohousing: multigenerational or senior-focused communities of privately owned attached or single-family homes clustered around shared space.

Typically there’s a “common house” with a kitchen and dining area where residents meet for meals once a week or so. Residents make joint decisions on community issues.

Harmony Village in Golden, a Denver suburb, is an example. The southwestern-style complex has 27 terra-cotta colored attached stucco town houses clustered along walkways.

It has a community garden, a children’s playground, a hot tub and a large, wooden-beamed common house where residents share meals about three times a month. Houses range from the high $200,000s to about $700,000.

Ronnie Rosenbaum, 69, a divorced mother of two adult children who works part-time as a family and elder mediator, said Harmony Village residents share a commitment to ecology and sustainability. About half are boomers and many of them ski, hike or climb mountains.

“We’re not ready to just sit in front of a TV all day or go play golf. We want to change the world. We’ve never given up on that,” Rosenbaum said. “We’re active politically, physically, educationally.”

Rosenbaum said she plans to grow old in her multilevel town house, which has a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. She figures a caretaker could live on the second floor, if need be.

“I moved here from a suburban house. I had a garage and used a garage door opener to get in,” she said. “I really didn’t know my neighbors that well. I didn’t have the relationships and the trust. It’s a very different experience here and there’s a wonderful support system.”

Alice Alexander, executive director of the Cohousing Association of the U.S., said 150 cohousing communities have been built and 12 are being constructed. Another 125 are in development.

“Villages,” membership organizations in existing neighborhoods, are another option for aging boomers. In most villages, members pay an annual fee and provide services for one another, such as transportation or light home maintenance.

Non-members who live in the neighborhood also lend a hand. Villages often have a small paid staff. They sponsor social activities: luncheons, book clubs, trips to museums. And they give members lists of vetted, discounted contractors.

About 185 villages operate in 43 states and the District of Columbia and about 40 percent are in suburban areas, according to Natalie Galucia, director of the Village to Village Network, a nonprofit that provides guidance and resources to those who want to set up villages.

“I think it is a great option for boomers who are aging,” said Shari Wenokur Smith, director of the Village in the Woods, in suburban Detroit.

“They need more community and they become more limited in what they can do. It’s important to establish the connection so you don’t wake up one day and say ‘I need help and I’ve got nobody.’ ”

But these alternative housing arrangements may not be affordable for working- and middle-class retirees, particularly those on fixed incomes.

“Cohousing, group houses, villages are all going to be marginal. They’re not going to take care of the bulk of boomers who don’t have adequate financial resources,” said John McIlwain, the author of Housing in America and a former senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a research center that focuses on real estate and land use.

“The pressure is going to fall on local and state government. And they don’t have the money to build the housing that’s needed.” 

Aging experts agree that it’s going to take a lot more work to get Mableton or any other suburb in the U.S. ready for the major demographic shifts ahead.

“There’s a tremendous amount to do. Nobody is ready in any way, shape or form,” said Kathryn Lawler, director of the Area Agency on Aging at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

“No communities have transformed themselves. It hasn’t happened. But some communities will get it — and they will be the ones driving the 21st century.”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How a Woman with Amnesia Defies Conventional Wisdom About Memory

Newswise, June 23, 2016  — She no longer recognizes a Van Gogh, but can tell you how to prepare a watercolor palette.

She can’t recall a single famous composer, but knows the purpose of a viola’s bridge.

She hasn’t flown a plane since 2007, when viral encephalitis destroyed her hippocampus, the part of the brain used to form new memories and retrieve old ones. And she couldn’t describe a single trip she’s ever taken. But in detail, she’ll list the steps needed to keep a plane from stalling and where to find the rudder controls.

Johns Hopkins University cognitive scientists say the sharp contrasts in this patient’s memory profile — her inability to remember facts about pursuits once vital to her life as an artist, musician and amateur aviator, while clearly remembering facts relevant to performing in these domains — suggest conventional wisdom about how the brain stores knowledge is incorrect.

Conventional wisdom about memory firmly separates declarative knowledge, or memories about facts, from memories for skills, or “muscle memory.” For instance, a severe amnesiac with muscle memory might never forget how to ride a bike, but probably couldn’t recall anything about the Tour de France. But because skilled performance, like playing music or flying airplanes, requires much more than mere muscle memory, and because this patient retained it despite losing most other aspects of her declarative memory, researchers conclude this type of skill-related declarative knowledge is different.

“There is such a contrast between her not being able to tell us anything about her former life and not being able to tell us anything about many aspects of art and music that she once knew well, but when we ask her to tell us how to do a watercolor, she is articulate and full of detail,” said Barbara Landau, the Dick and Lydia Todd Professor of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins. “How can you talk about this knowledge of “how to” as distinct from declarative knowledge? It is declarative knowledge.”

The findings, 
now online, are due to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Cognitive Neuropsychology.

Before her illness, Lonni Sue Johnson, 64, was an accomplished artist whose portfolio included six New Yorker magazine covers. She was also an amateur violist who played in orchestras and chamber groups and a licensed single-engine airplane pilot who flew more than 400 flights and owned two planes. Her illness left her with severe brain damage and catastrophic memory impairment, including severe losses of memory about her previous life and severely restricted ability to learn new facts.

She has very little memory of her past — not even of her wedding day. She forgets having done something immediately after doing it. She also has very little memory for general world knowledge, including facts about the fields in which she once excelled.

To determine whether Johnson’s “skill-related” memory was preserved despite extensive losses in memory for general world knowledge, the team tested her on her memory for facts related to performing four of her former top skills — art, music, flying and driving. They gave the same tests to people of similar age and experience in those areas, as well as to people with no experience in them.

The oral tests, of about 80 questions each, covered information about the techniques, equipment and terminology involved in performing the various skills. They included queries such as “How might one remove excess paint when painting with watercolor?” and “How should one touch the strings of an instrument to produce a harmonic?”

In art and driving, Johnson scored nearly as high as experts taking the test. In music and aviation, she did not perform as well, but knew considerably more than the novices.

“Although Johnson had not created watercolors, had not flown a plane, and had not driven since her illness, she could still describe how one would go about carrying out these activities,” said Johns Hopkins cognitive scientist Michael McCloskey. “These findings suggest that skill-related knowledge can be spared even with dramatic losses in other kinds of knowledge.”

The team also included first author Emma Gregory, a former Johns Hopkins post-doctoral fellow, and research assistant Zoe Ovans, also of Johns Hopkins.

This research was supported by the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Can Car-Centric Suburbs Adjust to Aging Baby Boomers?

Going Gray: How Aging Boomers Will Challenge Suburbia
© The Pew Charitable Trusts

Baby boomer Greg Glischinski wants to grow old in his multilevel suburban home in Centennial, Colorado, but worries there’s no bedroom or full bathroom on the first floor and public transit options are limited if he can no longer drive.

CENTENNIAL, Colo. June 22, 2016 — Greg Glischinski and his wife, Sheri, have lived in their two-story brick and wood Colonial-style house for more than three decades. The retirees, both in their 60s, want to stay where they are for the rest of their lives.

But their house has no bedroom or full bathroom on the first floor. It is on a cul-de-sac, and public transportation options are limited. As they grow older, the Glischinskis may need in-home assistance with tasks like bathing, dressing and preparing meals — an expensive proposition.

“It’s a huge problem for boomers,” said Greg Glischinski, 66. “Quite frankly, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Turns out the kids who listened to rock ’n’ roll on their transistor radios and watched spellbound as men walked on the moon — the first American generation raised in the suburbs — want to grow old there.

In fact, the American suburbs, built for returning GIs and their burgeoning families, are already aging. In 1950, only 7.4 percent of suburban residents were 65 and older. By 2014, it was 14.5 percent. It will rise dramatically in the coming decades, with the graying of 75.4 million baby boomers mostly living in suburbia.

But car-centric suburban neighborhoods with multilevel homes and scarce sidewalks are a poor match for people who can’t climb stairs or drive a car.

“Most [boomers] are in a state of denial about what really is possible and what’s reasonable for them as they age,” said John Feather, a gerontologist and the CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, a national association of foundations for seniors.

Mildred Warner, professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University, said too many Americans are “living in a Peter Pan world.” People become “more feeble” as they age, she said, and communities need to plan and budget for that.

But state and local officials are largely unprepared to handle heightened demands for transportation, affordable housing and long-term care. One study estimated that spending on public transit would have to increase 81 percent, to $8.6 billion, by 2030 to meet the needs of seniors who want to stay in their homes.

Some researchers foresee conflicts between seniors and families with school-age children over increasingly scarce government resources. Many working- and middle-class retirees, some of whom are trapped in their suburban homes because they are still underwater — they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth — won’t be able to afford to modify them to make them livable in old age.

Some live in areas where the cost of renting or buying elsewhere would be higher than what they already pay. And subsidized housing for seniors is in short supply in the suburbs.
“The graying of suburbia is going to become the central challenge of the country and the suburbs,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. “Most suburbs are not ready. They don’t have the resources, experience or ability to deal with these big issues.”

Boomers in the Burbs

This year, the oldest boomers started turning 70. The youngest will be 52. By 2035, there will be 77 million Americans aged 65 and over, up from about 48 million in 2015.

Nearly two-thirds of boomers in metropolitan areas lived in the suburbs in 2014, and most want to age there, according to national surveys.

Demographers agree that as people age, they tend to stay where they are. “Older people don’t move that much,” said William Frey, demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

“The boomers might have moved into the city for a while to feel their oats, go to college or sample the nightlife. But typically they moved back to the suburbs when they had kids and pretty much stayed there,” Frey said. And now, because boomers are such a big group, the senior population is set to surge all across the country.

Boomers are expected to live longer, and retire later, than earlier generations. But they also have higher rates of chronic disease, and don’t have the retirement savings their parents did. Many members of the generation that sang “I hope I die before I get old” have not planned for old age.

More than one in four households age 55 to 64 has no retirement savings from a 401(k), an IRA or a pension, a recent federal reportfound. Their median net worth is about $9,000 and 91 percent of them have less than $25,000 in financial assets. Nearly half of boomers are still paying off their homes and eight in 10 hold some form of debt, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew also funds Stateline).

The Glischinskis, in Colorado, had built up their 401(k)s and were feeling good about their financial future until they both were struck by serious health issues.

“We’ve had to cash out our retirement nest eggs to pay bills,” Greg Glischinski said. “You try to plan, but all of a sudden, something else gets in the way.”

Retirees who want to stay in the suburbs will have to cover the rising costs of property taxes and utilities, and they may have to shell out big sums to retrofit their homes if they become frail or disabled.

One study found that it can cost $800 to $1,200 to widen a doorway to accommodate a wheelchair, $1,600 to $3,200 for a ramp, and up to $12,000 for a stair lift. Major remodeling, such as adding first-floor bedrooms or bathrooms, can cost much more.

Some empty nesters will sell their suburban homes and move into hip urban downtowns, but they are an affluent, niche market.

For Wendell Cox, of Demographia, a public policy consulting firm, the idea that a wave of aging boomers will flood downtown neighborhoods is “a lot of hype and baloney.”

“Most people aren’t going to move to Washington [D.C.] and pay $1 million for a condo,” Cox said. “If they do move from the suburbs at all, it usually will be farther out.”

Cul-de-Sac Culture

Suburbanites rely on their cars to get everywhere, whether it’s picking up groceries, dropping off dry cleaning or meeting friends for dinner.

But as people grow old, they no longer may be comfortable — or able — to drive. That may mean relying on public transit, which often is scarce in suburbia. And that’s expected to have a major impact on local and state government, which will face increasing pressure to provide transportation.

In Illinois, for example, where one in five residents is projected to be 65 and over by 2030, transportation for older adults will be “particularly challenging” in suburbs and rural areas that lack a fixed-route transit system, according to a July 2014 report by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Urban Transportation Center. The report urges Illinois officials to take steps now to develop alternatives.

A Georgia Council on Aging report notes that the majority of older residents live in the suburbs, which are filled with “un-walkable” areas that make it difficult for them to remain active and healthy.

“Significant suburban cul-de-sac development has created isolated and segregated communities that offer limited transportation alternatives to the car,” the report found.

Boomers who age in their homes in the suburbs will be facing many of the same challenges older seniors already are dealing with. Take Maxine McArn, a 90-year-old widow who fends for herself most of the day in her single-family home of 30 years, in suburban Kansas City. Although her son lives with her, he works long hours and isn’t around much.

McArn, who gave up driving many years ago, says transportation is her biggest challenge. She relies on friends and relatives to take her where she needs to go. “I’m blessed I have family and friends. People who don’t are in trouble,” she said.

But she worries about the strain that places on family members, who have their own lives and responsibilities. “Your family works and you don’t want to bother them all the time,” she said. “They need time off. They don’t need to be driving me around the town.”

Even if a suburb has a regional transit system, the routes are often limited and geared to help commuters get to and from work in the city.

The nearest bus or train stop may be miles from the subdivisions where aging boomers live. And while the Americans with Disabilities Act requires most public transit systems to provide pickup “paratransit” for people with disabilities who are unable to use regular bus or train services, that applies only to people who meet certain criteria.

One alternative is transportation services overseen by a federally funded network of local agencies that offer services and support to older adults to help them age at home and in the community. In many regions, these Area Agencies on Aging contract with local providers that offer door-to-door van services to older adults who qualify.

But those programs, often geared to taking seniors to medical appointments and grocery stores, usually offer little flexibility and require clients to make reservations.

That’s not likely to appeal to boomers, experts say.

“I don’t think the boomer population will be satisfied with making a reservation for a bus 48 hours in advance,” said Jana Lynott, an AARP senior policy adviser who focuses on transportation issues. “Boomers are going to demand convenience in transportation to be able to get out into the community.”

In other words, they’ll want transportation not just for specific services, but for daily living. Boomers who have the resources might be able to rely on ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft or even on self-driving cars in the future. But those who don’t may be counting on government and nonprofits for help.

Transportation is essential to keeping aging boomers healthy, and local and state governments and nonprofits need to coordinate and plan for their future transportation needs, said Stephanie Firestone, director of livable communities for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

“Once older adults give up their car keys, they take a lot fewer trips for social purposes. Some stop going to medical appointments. Some stop going to church,” Firestone said. “It’s a direct cause of mental and physical health deterioration.”

That’s one of Greg Glischinski’s biggest concerns as he envisions growing old in his suburban Centennial home. Regional public transit goes to Denver and Aurora, but it can’t help him get around in his own city.

“We’ve lived here 37 years and want to remain here for the rest of our lives,” he said. But good transportation is essential. “Right now, you jump into a car just to go a half a mile,” Glischinski said. But that’s not so easy when you’re 85, and even short distances can feel long, especially when there’s snow. “That’s going to pose real big problems for people like us in the suburbs.”

Room for Compromise

Not all boomers who want to grow old in suburbia choose to stay in their multistory homes. Some are downsizing to a smaller, one-story house, renting an apartment or buying a condominium or townhouse in the burbs.

Many see giving up their longtime homes to remain in their communities as a compromise they’re willing to make.

That’s what Denny and Ruth Laufenburger, of Chanhassen, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb where the singer Prince lived, did two years ago. They sold their four-bedroom, four-bathroom house of 20 years and moved to a single-level townhome in the same suburb.

“With the equity, we were able to buy it mortgage-free,” said Denny Laufenburger, 66, the city’s mayor. “We made a conscious decision to live here the rest of our lives.”

Laufenburger said he hated giving up all of his “man tools” and rakes and lawnmowers and the big backyard the couple loved. But he also enjoys the freedom of not having to worry about mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.

“Grandma and grandpa’s home is no longer Grand Central Station,” Laufenburger said. “Our kids are starting to assume that role for planning, hosting and executing Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. That frees us to enjoy life a little bit differently.”

And while many suburban boomers scoff at the idea of moving into senior-only housing or assisted living, the feeling isn’t universal.

Retirees Steve and Debbie Cunningham, who live in a single-family home in Forest Lake, Minnesota — a far St. Paul suburb — have put down a $500 deposit on an apartment in a continuing care community in a closer-in suburb. The complex offers apartments for seniors and assisted living for those who may need more care down the road.

The Cunninghams aren’t making the move for another five years or so, but they wanted to be prepared.

“I understand wholly why people want to stay in their homes as long as possible. They’re comfortable with it. It’s like a cocoon,” said Steve Cunningham, 67.

“But the isolation that comes when you’re not interacting with people and you’re not able to get around can be debilitating and have a powerful effect on mental and emotional health. We’ve seen how that worked with Debbie’s parents, and it wasn’t good.”

Friday, June 17, 2016

Social Security Benefits Lose 23% of Buying Power Since 2000

Social Security beneifts lose 23 percent of buying power since 2000
June 17, 2016--Social Security beneficiaries have lost 23 percent of their buying power since 2000, according to the 2016 Survey of Senior Costs released today by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL).

The findings indicate that except for higher medical and prescription drug costs, overall prices have changed relatively little over the past year. Inflation remains very low, almost nil, mainly due to the dramatic drop in oil prices. “TSCL is concerned,” says TSCL Chairman Ed Cates.

“There appears to be a high risk of either an extremely low annual cost - of - living adjustment (COLA) next year, or worse — none at all,” he says.

Older Americans and disabled Social Security beneficiaries received no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2016 due to low inflation last year, but TSCL’s new survey found that lower inflation didn’t translate into lower household expenses in 2015.

In fact, nearly 1,200 survey respondents recently said that monthly household expenses made steep increases in 2015. The majority, 72%, indicated their monthly expenses went up by more than $79. “With today’s Social Security benefit averaging $1,230 per month, that’s an unsustainable level when there’s no benefit increase to match,” Cates says.

In most years, Social Security beneficiaries receive a small increase in their Social Security checks, intended to help them keep up with rising costs. But since 2000, the COLAs rose a total of just 36.3 percentage points while typical senior expenses have jumped 75.3 percent.

“Going without any COLA in 2016 has long-term consequences for retirees when real costs continue to climb,” Cates says. “People must spend down retirement savings more quickly than expected, and those without savings are either going into debt, or going without,” he says.
A person with average Social Security benefits in 2000 received $816 per month, a figure that rose to $1,166.30 by 2016. However, according to the survey, that individual would require a Social Security benefit of $1,430.50 per month in 2016 just to maintain his or her 2000 buying power, the study found.

The study examined the increase in costs of 38 key items between 2000 and January 2016. The items were chosen because they are typical of the costs that most Social Security recipients must bear. Of the 38 costs analyzed, 29 exceeded the amount of increase in the COLA over the same period. The selected items represent eight categories, weighted by approximate expenditure.

“This study illustrates why Congress should enact legislation to provide an emergency COLA this year,” says Cates. “To put it in perspective, for every $100 worth of expenses seniors could afford in 2000, they can afford just $77.00 today,” Cates adds.

A majority of the 57 million senior and disabled Americans who receive Social Security depend on it for at least 50 percent of their total income, and one in four beneficiaries relies on it for 90 percent or more of his or her total income.

To help protect buying power of benefits, TSCL supports legislation that would base COLAs on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly. TSCL and its members are lobbying Congress for an emergency COLA for 2016. To learn more, visit

With 1.2 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of The Retired Enlisted Association. Visit for more information.