More than half of the older adults living on their own in the Chattanooga area don't have enough income to make ends meet without help.
A new report from the University of Massachusetts Boston's Gerontology Institute estimates 51.9% of Chattanooga seniors living by themselves and 26% of Chattanooga's elderly couples lack financial security and are either relying upon government assistance, family help or are doing without some necessities to survive. Among major metro areas in the Midsouth region, Chattanooga ranked as the worst metro area for elder economic insecurity.
Although Chattanooga's cost of housing was below the U.S. average, the income of most seniors also lagged behind most of the country.
In the six-county Chattanooga metro area, the study found that about one of every six seniors living by themselves and about one of every 20 senior couples live below the federal poverty line. But a bigger share — 33.9% of individual seniors and 20.7% of senior couples in Chattanooga — live in the gap between the poverty rate that qualifies for many assistance programs and the level of income needed to be considered economically secure.
Researchers found many seniors fall into an "economic security gap" where their incomes — which include Social Security and, in some instances, wages, savings and pensions — are too high to qualify for public benefits but too low to achieve economic stability. Those who can't get family help sometimes resort to skimping on food or medicine, the study authors said.
"Most of these individuals are relying upon other family members or friends or some other type of assistance to pay all of their bills," said Steven Syre, director of communications at the UMass Gerontology Institute. "The elder living index is meant to be a baseline to determine what is needed to live on your own without outside assistance."
Nationwide, 37% of older singles are at risk of being unable to afford basic needs and age in their own homes, along with at least 12% of older couples. Older adults who live in group quarters, including institutional settings, and those living with anyone under the age of 65 are not included in the study.
Syre said economic insecurity occurs when an older person or couple lacks sufficient financial resources to cover necessary expenses in the community in which they live. Older people living in those circumstances must make difficult choices to make ends meet, often facing great uncertainty with respect to their ability to maintain stable housing, secure needed healthcare, or maintain a nutritious diet.
"It really comes down to the cost of living, particularly the cost of housing and health care," said Jan Mutchler, a gerontology professor and director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
The study found elder insecurity was highest in the nation at the Texas border town of McAllen, Texas, where more than two-thirds of single older adults face economic insecurity. But most of the cities with the highest elder economic insecurity were in major cities with high costs of living, including New York, Boston and San Jose, California.
The study estimates that in Chattanooga, a typical single senior must pay $22,692 a year for rent, food, transportation, health care and other expenses while a senior couple must spend $33,552 a year for such living costs, if they rent.
— Compiled by Dave Flessner who may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6340.