LiveOn NY Testimony on the record:
New York City Council Joint Hearing
Committee on Aging and Committee on Women
Chairs: Council Member Chin and Council Member Rosenthal
Oversight: Women Aging into Poverty in New York City
January 23, 2019
LiveOn NY would like to first and foremost thank Chairs Chin and Rosenthal for the opportunity to testify on the important topic of women aging into poverty in New York City.
The numbers are staggering. Currently one in five older women are living below the poverty level, a figure higher than their male counterparts. More specifically, the National Institute on Retirement Security reports that women over the age of 65 are 80% more likely than men to be impoverished. To understand just why more and more women are aging into poverty, one must first look to the structural struggles women face throughout their lives, especially for women of earlier generations. Despite progress, women can still expect to make 80% of their male counterparts, according to PEW. Compounding this, years of inferior wages means that women are, by default, less able to save and prepare for old age.
Beyond low wages, women often experience the financial strains of caring for a loved one. In New York, an estimated 80% of those caring for older loved ones are women – a point that becomes worrisome when coupled with the fact that the average caregiver will personally experience an estimated $660,000 in lost wages and benefits over a lifetime, as well as an estimated $5,500 out of pocket expenses annually.
Considering the multitude of other factors that may further lead to or exacerbate poverty among older women, the situation becomes increasingly bleak. These factors include:
Women often receive less social security than men, yet live longer on average, posing particular challenges of maintaining a fixed income;
Immigrant women and women of color earn less than Caucasian women, at almost all levels of work;
1.6 million Americans do not receive any Social Security benefits, the majority of whom are immigrants;
Older women seeking to return to the workforce to increase one’s income face difficulties as 3 out of 5 older adults report seeing or experiencing age discrimination; and
Increasing rents and a lack of affordable housing also works in opposition to the fixed incomes often experienced in later years, an estimated 31% of the nation’s homeless population are 50+
These are the stats; but our team at LiveOn NY sees these needs every day in our work with older adults, as do our members through the programs they provide such as senior centers, case management and home delivered meals, among many others. Through LiveOn NY’s Benefits Program, the individuals who come to us for application assistance are overwhelmingly women – nearly three times as many woman as men. Many are living on as little as $15,000 a year. Some are displaced workers who relied on their spouse’s income, and others left the workforce early to care for a loved one, causing their Social Security benefits to be lower than it otherwise would have been. And through our RISE program, we see firsthand the lack of information available to older adults in the community. Further, in many instances at LiveOn NY’s Financial Fitness presentations, older women often share with us that due to historical family roles over their lifetimes, many of them were not involved in the management of finances in their families and they lack the information and basic background on many finance principles.
These examples are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to identifying just why older adults, and particularly women, are increasingly aging into poverty.
Now, what can New York do to combat this?
While society at large, as well as all levels of government, must confront the larger systemic constructs that all but continue to ensure poverty among older women of the future, the City can and must do more to support older women who are in many ways a product of this unequal society. Better supporting services funded through the Department for the Aging (DFTA) represents one of the clearest ways to improve the lives of older female New Yorkers.
Below are a few concrete examples of DFTA services that through additional support, the city could directly and positively impact this population:
For older women living in poverty, quality nutrition is an incredibly important service that the City can and should fulfill. Within DFTA’s home-delivered meal program, 81% of meal recipients note that home-delivered meals improve their overall health. The majority of seniors utilizing the program tend to be women, living alone, receiving meals that on average account for ½ or more of their total food for the day. To better support the home-delivered and congregate meals programs, the City must increase funding by $20 million to ensure the solvency of the program, the availability of culturally competent options, and increased quality of the meals provided.
Further, it is imperative that further recognition be given to the role that the entire network of aging services plays in alleviating the burdens of caregiving for many. By increasing funding for services such as senior centers and NORCs to ensure that quality program can continue in spite of rising costs, the city is investing in an outlet for aging New Yorkers and peace of mind for the thousands of family members who find solace and respite in these program’s existence.
The city must continue to expand its Geriatric Mental Health Initiative (GMHI) created through Thrive NYC, as almost half of women over the age of 75 live alone, a point that requires increased mental health services as loneliness has been found to be a greater predictor of morbidity than obesity. The GMHI initiative appears ripe for expansion as only 25 of DFTA’s more than 250 senior centers are able to participate in this life sustaining program.
Finally, the city must increase funding for the gamut of human services programs, DFTA and otherwise, as 3 out of 4 human services workers are women, almost half of whom are making less than $15 per hour. By improving the salaries of chefs at senior centers, early childhood educators, and NORC directors, as a few examples, the city can take a powerful step towards supporting the women of today and older women of tomorrow.
LiveOn NY looks forward to working with the City to ensure that all women and all individuals have access to meaningful, quality supports to age with dignity and independence.