Nearly 20 percent of adults over 65 in California live between an economic rock and hard place — unable to afford basic needs but ineligible to receive government assistance — making them the state’s “hidden poor,” according to a UCLA study released Monday.
The study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, and funded by the California Wellness Foundation, found that more than 770,000 people over age 65 in the state live in the gap between the federal poverty level and the ability to afford a “decent standard of living.”
“Many of our older adults are forced to choose between eating, taking their medications or paying rent,” said D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, a UCLA graduate student researcher and lead author of the study. “The state might be emerging from a recession, but for many of our elder households, the downturn seems permanent.”
According to the study, about 772,000 adults over 65 who are heads of households fall into the category of “hidden poor.” That’s more than double the 342,000 who meet the federal poverty-level guideline with earnings below $10,890 a year. Unlike those who meet the poverty guidelines, the “hidden poor” often do not qualify for public assistance, the study found.
For San Diego County, the estimated number of hidden poor was over 56,000 people.
According to the study, grandparents raising grandchildren were particularly vulnerable to fall into the “hidden poor” classification, as were older adults housing adult children.
“They have few options, and one unexpected expense can put them right over,” said Steve Wallace, associate director of the UCLA center and co-author of the report.
The report suggested amendments to income-eligibility limits for housing assistance and using former redevelopment funds to build affordable housing, along with helping seniors with health care by raising income eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
“It’s very clear that income level is a major predictor of health outcomes — at any age,” California Wellness Foundation President/CEO Judy Belk said. “This research underscores that elders’ economic security is a health equity issue.”
City News Service contributed to this article.
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