Nearly 1 in 5 adults over 65 in California — more than three-quarters of a million people — live in an economic no-man’s land, unable to afford basic needs but often ineligible for government assistance, according to a new study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
The study, funded by the California Wellness Foundation, highlights the plight of the “hidden poor” — those who live in the gap between the federal poverty level and the Elder Index’s poverty measure, which is considered a more accurate cost estimate of what it takes to have a decent standard of living.
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.
“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 at the center 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.”
According to the study, about 772,000 elderly adults in California who are heads of households belong to this group of hidden poor, which is more than double the number of elderly (342,000) who meet federal poverty level guidelines. Unlike the “official” poor, the hidden poor often do not qualify for public assistance.
The study, which used 2009-2011 American Community Survey data and the 2011 Elder Index data, showed that in terms of sheer numbers, whites make up more than half of elders in the financially pinched group (482,000).
Proportionately, grandparents raising grandchildren, older adults who rent, Latinos, women, and the oldest age group (75 and over) were the groups most affected.