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Researchers develop index to uncover the ‘true’ cost of aging

The data will serve as the basis for dialogues about policy changes that could affect older citizens

More than half of all older women (54%) who live alone in the U.S. are either poor according to federal definitions of poverty or have incomes that are too low to pay for essential expenses, with a similar figure of men — 45% — in the same situation. That striking data, sourced from the “Elder Index” developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, is hoped to spur new conversations about policy that could impact aging in America.

This is according to a new feature published by Fortune. The data will be used by a new coalition of 25 prominent aging organizations — known as the Equity in Aging Collaborative —to potentially influence policies that affect older Americans, including property tax relief and the expansion of eligibility for assistance programs designed to help curb the cost of medical care.

Member organizations that are part of the collaborative include the National Council on Aging, the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Urban Institute. Several organizations from specific localities are also involved, including from cities such as Los Angeles County and the City of Philadelphia.

The new data indicates that the cost of living for older adults exceeds levels associated with federal poverty thresholds, the Fortune piece reads.

“The Elder Index estimates that a single older adult in good health paying rent needed $27,096, on average, for basic expenses in 2021—$14,100 more than the federal poverty threshold of $12,996,” the article reads. “For couples, the gap between the index’s calculation of necessities and the poverty threshold was even greater.”

This could create issues for seniors seeking assistance through pre-existing federal benefit programs which tie eligibility to the federal standards, including Medicaid, housing assistance programs and food stamps, the article explains. These standards also do not typically account for geographic variations in the costs of such goods, which could exacerbate the situations of older adults living in particularly high-cost areas.

“The poverty rate just doesn’t cut it as a realistic look at the struggles older adults are having,” said William Arnone, CEO of coalition member the National Academy of Social Insurance. “The Elder Index is a reality check.”

Read the article at Fortune.

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