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Widening health gap between wealthy and poor older adults

Written by Diane Archer

Several recent reports based on data since 2000 suggest that the health gap between wealthy and poor older adults is widening. More older Americans who are well off are reporting better health. In sharp contrast, more older Americans with modest means are reporting less good health. Beyond Medicare coverage, we need policies to address this health gap.

A September 2017 Research Letter in JAMA Network, which looked at data of 50,000 older adults, reveals that healthy older adults are a growing proportion of the population. In 2014, one in six (17 percent) more older adults reported being in good health than in 2000. Put differently, 14 million older adults reported being healthy in 2000. Fourteen years later, 22.4 million reported being healthy, 48.2 percent of the older adult population.

However, at the same time that some subpopulations of older adults are experiencing health improvements, others are experiencing declines in health. There are significant health disparities between different subpopulations of older adults, and they are widening. Among older people, non-Hispanic whites, people with higher educations and people with higher incomes were most likely to report being healthy. Put differently, 17 percent fewer non-Hispanic blacks reported being in good health in 2014 as compared to 2000. And, 21 percent more non-Hispanic whites reported being in good health in 2014.

Income plays an increasingly big role in longevity. Today, a wealthy man at 50 is expected to live more than 12 years longer than a poor man at 50, seven years more than in 1980, when the gap was 5.1 years.

Linda Davidson of the Washington Post reports on the “alarmingly fragile finances” of millions of people over 65. For older couples who rely on Social Security for all or almost all of their incomes, as many do, Social Security benefits are very limited. They total about 10 percent less than minimum wage earnings, and substantially less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

As a result, a growing number of people over 65 are working to make ends meet. They are selling their homes, buying a trailer home, and traveling the country for low-wage seasonal employment.  Work, generally, comes without benefits. They are called “workampers.”  A website called “Workamper News” lists job openings.

Davidson also warns of the excessive fees many financial companies charge people with funds invested in 401(k) plans, further limiting the resources of many older people. Check to see what fees are taken from your investment accounts; you might want to look into other options such as low-cost mutual funds.

If you want Congress to expand Social Security benefits, please sign this petition.

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