NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The retirement crisis in the U.S. is no secret with Americans fearful of outliving their assets in their golden years. But the hardships for retirees could be all the more dire: Feeding America reports 8 million Baby Boomers in America go hungry pretty much daily.
More of us nationwide are not getting adequate food ourselves. Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, said that whereas four years ago it was feeding 37 million Americans, it is now providing for 46 million. But the picture looks grimmer for Boomers, a generation that matured as the American economy flourished. Now things may be turning particularly sour for that age group. Here is how ugly it gets in many Boomer households: according to Feeding America, 77% buy the cheapest food available, and 35% water down food and drink to make it stretch. Many have to choose between food and other necessities. Feeding America said 63% frequently have to decide between food and health care.
One-third of the people fed by Feeding America are 50+ (Boomers usually are defined as those born from 1946 - 1964), so that puts a lot of Boomers in the nation’s soup lines. Worse: that number is almost sure to rise as more Boomers (10,000 a day according to Ross Fraser, director of media relations for Feeding America) turn 65. Many are financially unprepared for retirement, and most have little or no retirement savings, said Feeding America. The organization, in its report, added this: “in 2013, the annual median income in the U.S. for individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 was $24,644, compared to $38,643 for those ages 45 to 54.”
Government benefits - such as food stamps, now called SNAP - are good as far as they go, but the evidence is that many older Americans have significant difficulty navigating a bureaucracy that may be inflexible. The primary cause of Boomer hunger: they are cash strapped, simple as that.
“Financial constraints are an issue in Baby Boomer malnutrition,” agreed Abby Sauer, a registered dietitian with Abbott Nutrition, a developer of nutritional products. She added that often, too, Boomers are not getting the right foods. According to her, research shows that an aging person needs twice the protein of an otherwise healthy young adult, mainly to help repair injured cells. But many Boomers eat a high carb, high fat diet that does little for health and may also spur obesity. “Malnutrition and obesity definitely can co-exist,” said Sauer.
Solutions to the problem of widespread Boomer hunger may not be easy. Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman offered a nuanced diagnosis of the causes of epidemic Boomer hunger. “Financially, many had counted on continuing to work longer, but the recession has stolen their jobs, and Social Security is not keeping up with the cost of living," she said. "Emotionally, many Baby Boomers are too depressed to take care of their needs, including managing to get food for themselves.”
Duane Matcha, a sociology professor at Siena College in upstate New York, also offered a biting analysis. “The crash in '08 had an impact, because some had all of their money in the market," he said. "Others have worked at low-wage jobs and have always had a hard time making it. Many lost their jobs in '08 and had to pay for medical expenses before the ACA [Obamacare]. Are the Boomers unique? No. Wages for all workers is a major part of the problem.”
It's just that Boomers may be suffering inordinately more as they enter or are forced into retirement, with their prime earning years far behind them. Their lack of preparedness leaves them malnourished.
Is there a fix? Said Feeding America: “A collective effort, involving charitable food providers, other social service providers, advocates for the older adult population, and policymakers, will be required in order to meet the needs of the vulnerable older adult population.” Because that population is growing so fast, quick action is needed, suggested Feeding America.
And even if you are young and have no hungry senior citizen family members, don’t assume invulnerability.
“It is also critical to look towards the future, by improving opportunities now for younger generations," said Feeding America. "In particular, improved wages and stronger programs that encourage and support saving for retirement can help prepare those who are younger for self-sufficiency later in life.”
To avoid a hungry old age, save today. That may not be easy but it is the surest way.