, Salem, MA


March 17, 2014

Column: Economic struggles ahead for an aging population


Members of the Greatest Generation, who are now 89 years and older, lived through the Great Depression and World War II when bread lines, rations and the fear of not knowing where the next meal would come from was a way of life. Those of the Silent Generation, born between 1926 and 1944, also remember a time when food choices were limited and lines were long for certain commodities like butter, eggs and sugar. The Baby Boomer generation has lived through more than one recession where those in the 60- to 69-year-old cohort were especially hard hit. They have faced more than their fair share of job loss and underemployment and face economic insecurity due to vanishing wages and loss of potential pension/retirement funds. At the same time that Baby Boomers are coming of retirement age, those of the earlier generations are living longer, increasing the number of people ages 60 and over who are in need of services.

The Meals on Wheels Association of America reports that “nearly one in six seniors may not know when they will have their next meal or where it will come from.” In Beverly, that would mean more than 1,500 older adults face potential hunger as a regular condition. The USDA also notes that older adults are reporting reduced quality, variety, or desirability in their diet, and some are reporting disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

It is well known that many older adults are reluctant to ask for or accept help. Even though they have always contributed to the life of the community, they do not want to be a burden in their older years. Many have lived through difficult times in the past and feel they can endure again. Some have been culturally conditioned to be fiercely independent. Some have lost their ability to recognize their own need. Others have no family to call on for help. The very same people who have picked up grandchildren from day care, written a check to a favorite cause, smiled at the bus driver who was having a rough day, or brought a can of tuna fish to church for the monthly food drive are often going without the help needed to maintain their independence and a modicum of dignity. As members of the human race, we all thrive on interdependent, caring relationships. These relationships are what make a community. Seniors want to continue to be part of the community, and they don’t want to be a liability. In this regard, it is easy to envision a senior donating food to a food drive while going hungry herself.

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