Millions Of Senior Citizens Can't Afford Basic Living Expenses: Study

Huge Number Of America's Senior Citizens Can't Afford Basic Needs

More than 9 million older Americans can't pay their bills.

The costs of living -- basic expenses like food, housing, health care and transportation -- are too much for millions of people aged 65 and older to bear, according to a study released Thursday examining the gaps between income and expenses for many older Americans. The report, from the nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women, is the first of a planned series that will examine the financial pressures affecting senior citizens.

Amid the weak economy of the past several years, older Americans have been suffering alongside everybody else. The housing crash erased millions of dollars in home equity nationwide and dealt a serious blow to the wealth of many seniors, sending hundreds of thousands of retired Americans back into the workforce to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, health care costs are rising, and more than one in five people over age 50 say they have skipped doctor visits, switched to cheaper medications, or simply avoided certain medications altogether because the expense was too high. The increasing costs of medical care are also likely to offset the modest boost in Social Security that went into effect this January.

For many older Americans, the situation is desperate. Some 3.5 million seniors live in poverty, according to Census figures, but that number rises to about 6.2 million when health care costs are factored in. In 2010, the National Alliance to End Homelessness predicted that homeless rates among the elderly would climb by 33 percent -- or about 14,000 people -- within a decade's time.

Given the sluggish job market and the lack of real wage growth for most workers, the elderly are hardly alone in facing pressing financial concerns. A growing number of Americans of all ages have reported not being able to afford food in the past year, and nearly half of all households in the country are just one financial emergency away from the poverty line.

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