By Kevin Prindiville, Justice in Aging Executive Director
1 in 5 women over age 65 who lives alone in America is living in poverty. That’s because the same challenges that affect women in their younger years, follow them and become magnified as they age—income inequality, low-wage jobs, discrimination, societal expectations of women as caregivers, and lack of financial education.
Watch as Sandy, Myrtle, Lidia, and Dollie shared the struggles they face in their daily lives in the hope that by spreading the word of their day-to-day realities, policymakers would be forced to listen and to act on behalf of low-income seniors by preserving and expanding the programs that help these women survive – Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
Sandy had a good job as a registered nurse, and a middle class standard of living. She lost her husband and her ability to work her physically demanding job around the same time, leaving her with no income. Because her past employment as a nurse, she receives just enough Social Security to be disqualified from means-based assistance like Medicaid and subsidized housing. As a result she spends a large percentage of her monthly income on rent, leaving little money to cover food or her Medicare copayments and premiums.
Myrtle had a good job and a big plan for travel when she retired. Then she got injured at the workplace and had to go on disability. Her husband then divorced her. She managed to keep her home, but she struggles daily with medical and other expenses on her limited Social Security Income benefit.
Lidia came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child. For 20 years she ran her own barbershop business, while she raised a family, bought a home, worked hard, and thrived. She became too ill to cut hair about the same time as the housing market collapsed. She lost her home and unknowingly signed away her rights to her ex-husband’s police pension, depriving herself of around $1,800 per month in benefits. Today she lives in subsidized senior housing, struggles to afford food, and tries to avoid relying too much on her children for help.
Like many poor Native American women of her generation, Dollie received only limited formal education. She came to California from Oklahoma with her family as a child and had to quit school and go to work when her father became ill. Her lack of formal education led to a lifetime of low-wage, physically demanding jobs that made saving impossible. She now relies on her monthly SSI benefit of $877 to survive.
The solutions to senior poverty are well within our grasp. These women and growing numbers of others like them rely on our limited and increasingly threatened social safety net programs—like Medicaid and SSI. We all need to fight hard to preserve and expand these programs. As a country we have the ability to ensure that every senior has access to a safe place to live, healthy food to eat, and affordable, accessible medical care—in essence, the right to age in dignity. The first step is to highlight the problem by sharing the stories of those who are suffering, and then we must fight to preserve and expand the services they rely on to survive.