Get Informed, Stay Inspired

A recent study found that the United States is not ready to accommodate the increasing population of senior citizens.
Science & Health

A recent study found that the United States is not ready to accommodate the increasing population of senior citizens.

At the start of this year, Michael Genaldi’s path to being homeless began after a vehicle collided with the back of his motorcycle. This caused three of his ribs to be crushed and resulted in him being in a coma for more than a month.

A 58-year-old man lost his employment as a machine operator, followed by his residence, and eventually found himself living in his truck upon being diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer. Due to his age, he is unable to receive Social Security benefits and is currently residing in a temporary shelter for individuals aged 55 and above in Phoenix. He is currently working towards qualifying for disability payments.

The United States is facing challenges in providing suitable housing and care for its aging population, according to a new report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, set to be released on Thursday.

Jennifer Molinsky, the project director of the Housing an Aging Society Program at the center, has warned that without sufficient government assistance, numerous older adults will be unable to receive necessary care and will have to either go without or depend on their loved ones for support. As a result, individuals like Genaldi may end up being without a home.

Molinsky suggested that increased government support could effectively address the growing number of elderly Americans who belong to the baby boomer generation born after World War II.

FILE - Charles Sanders, 59, sits in his tent inside a homeless encampment called 'The Zone,' July 14, 2023, in downtown Phoenix.

In downtown Phoenix, on July 14, 2023, 59-year-old Charles Sanders can be found sitting in his tent at ‘The Zone’ homeless encampment.

According to the report, in 2021, government housing aid programs such as Section 8 and Section 202, which offer housing with additional services like cleaning, cooking, and transportation for senior citizens, were only able to support slightly over one-third of the 5.9 million eligible renters aged 62 and above.

The report states that innovative solutions are crucial for accommodating individuals with limited incomes and savings. Consider shared housing and living in accessory dwelling units (ADUs) such as casitas, granny flats, and in-law units to reduce expenses instead of living alone. Cohousing communities also exist, where homes are situated around a central building with shared spaces like a dining room.

In the coming ten years, the number of individuals in the United States who are 75 years or older will rise by 45%, reaching close to 25 million from the current 17 million. A significant portion of this population is predicted to face financial difficulties. According to the report, approximately 11.2 million senior citizens were considered “cost burdened” in 2021, indicating that they devote more than 30% of their income towards housing expenses.

Rental rates for individuals 65 years and older were notably high in popular retirement destinations in the Sunbelt region, such as Las Vegas, San Diego, Raleigh (North Carolina), Miami, and Daytona Beach (Florida).

Similar to tenants, numerous elderly homeowners also face challenges in maintaining a stable living situation.

According to the report, there has been an increase in mortgage debt among older individuals. The median mortgage debt for homeowners aged 65 to 79 has risen by over 400%, going from $21,000 in 1989 to $110,000 in 2022. This is due to a growing need for cash to cover essential expenses and healthcare costs.

As individuals get older, they may struggle to acquire necessary extra services as they age. The average cost of long-term care is more than $100 per day.

According to the report, households of elderly individuals from minority groups are significantly more likely to struggle with the financial burden of housing costs compared to older white households. This is especially true for Black and Latino households. Additionally, older individuals who live alone are more likely to experience this burden compared to those who are married or in a partnership. Specifically, 47% of single individuals versus 21% of couples.

FILE - Kevin Hendershot pours ice into a bucket outside his tent in 'The Zone' homeless encampment, July 14, 2023, in downtown Phoenix.

In downtown Phoenix on July 14, 2023, Kevin Hendershot can be seen pouring ice into a bucket outside of his tent in ‘The Zone’ homeless encampment.

Angelita Saldaña, 56, from Phoenix, was left without a home when her marriage ended. Saldaña, who is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, initially resided in her truck with her dog Gaspar. However, she now resides with Genaldi and his dog Chico at the 60-bed shelter.

Saldaña explained that her disability check of $941 per month is insufficient to cover the cost of a studio apartment in the region, as the average rent is approximately $1,200. A caseworker is currently assisting her in finding a more affordable living situation.

Currently, she has a solo motel room equipped with its own personal bathroom.

She stated that she can sleep well here, unlike the months she spent at the biggest shelter in downtown Phoenix, which has ten times more beds.

Lisa Glow, the Chief Executive Officer of Central Arizona Shelter Services, stated that shelters specifically designed for the needs of older individuals, including more spacious areas, fewer stairs, and wider doorways for wheelchair accessibility, have shown to be more beneficial for their well-being.

Glow shared the story of an elderly man, aged 82, who had dementia and had difficulty sleeping on a bunk bed at the shelter in the downtown area. However, after staff members located his family, they were able to arrange for him to be transferred to a skilled nursing facility where he could receive more specialized care.

Glow stated that the downtown shelter is not suitable for older adults with ongoing health issues. It is common to encounter individuals in their 70s and 80s at this location.

She expressed surprise at the sight of numerous elderly individuals on the streets, including those in wheelchairs and using walkers.