SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

March 17, 2014

Column: Economic struggles ahead for an aging population

A recent report of the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission indicates that 17 percent of Beverly residents are living at or below the poverty level. Poverty is also on the rise in the neighboring communities of Salem, Peabody and Gloucester. The daunting cost of living on the North Shore surely contributes to this troubling statistic.

Today in Beverly, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is close to $900 per month, while a two-bedroom is more than $1,000 per month at best. Our New England climate dictates higher spending on heating, and inefficient older homes with little insulation drive the costs even higher. Gas prices have steadily risen since the recession, making travel of any kind an increasingly more expensive activity, including increased fees for traveling on public transportation options such as buses, trains and subways. Health care co-pays, premiums and prescription drug costs also have gone up and have contributed to the strain on people’s wallets. For renters and homeowners alike, food is more expensive in the Northeast because of shipping costs that cause higher prices as you move west to east across the country.

The cost of basic necessities — food, shelter and healthcare are proving very troublesome to seniors living on a fixed income. According to the 2012 city census, 9,126 individuals age 60 and over reside in Beverly. In other words, 23 percent of Beverly’s population falls in to the “older adult” category. This number is projected to increase steadily until the year 2030 when the youngest baby boomers turn 65 years old. In many cases, fixed-income dollars are not allowing today’s seniors to balance a sustainable budget. Many report choosing to pay either for heat or medicine or food — there is truly an urgency in our need to plan and reach out to our oldest community members.

A 2012 Wider Opportunities for Women report finds that, “Massachusetts has the biggest gap between median income and the necessary expenses for single, elderly renters in the nation. In dollar terms, the gap is over $10,000 — meaning the median combined Social Security, pension and other retirement income for a single MA renter age 65+ covers only 62 percent of costs for such essentials as food, housing, transportation and out-of-pocket health costs. Moreover, the elder economic security gap is continuing to grow in Massachusetts and especially so for older women.” Forbes Magazine has recently named Essex County as the seventh most overpriced area in the country to live. These reports are indeed troubling and point out the tremendous gap between retirement resources available and the dollar costs to remain as vital, active members of our communities.

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