Nearly 20 percent of California adults over 65 have trouble paying bills for basic needs but don’t qualify for aid, according to a new study.
These seniors are among the state’s “hidden poor,” meaning their incomes are above the federal poverty line but below the Elder Index’s poverty level, a nationally recognized measure that estimates what people need to afford a basic standard of living.
Unlike the federal poverty line, the Elder Index accounts for geographic differences in costs for housing, medical care, food and transportation. The national federal poverty level guidelines say a single elderly adult living alone should be able to live on $10,890 a year, while the Elder Index estimates that person in California on average requires $23,364.
As a result, about 772,000 elderly adults in California likely don’t qualify for aid but have problems paying for basic needs, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study.
That’s more than double the number of seniors who qualify for assistance under the federal guidelines.
“Many of our older adults are forced to choose between eating, taking their medications or paying rent,” said D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, a UCLA graduate student researcher and lead author of the study. “The state might be emerging from a recession, but for many of our elder households, the downturn seems permanent.”
Researchers used data from the 2009-2011 American Community Survey and 2011 Elder Index data.
Grandparents raising grandchildren, older adults who rent, people who are Latino, women and the those older than 75 were most likely to be among the hidden poor, according to the report.
Rural areas had the highest proportion of seniors struggling to make ends meet. In Nevada, Plumas, Sierra, Mendocino, Lake, Colusa, Glenn, Tehama and Trinity counties, 40 percent or more of single people over 65 were among the hidden poor.
The researchers recommend that the state make housing assistance, food benefits and health care more available to seniors with low incomes.