37% of People 65 and Older Struggling to Survive

Disclaimer: Views expressed in Bob’s Blog belong solely to the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the CAC Office in Aging or its staff. 

As we got older, many of us started looking forward to retirement.  Retiring would really enable us to enjoy life. No longer constrained by work. Do what we dreamed of. Go to those places we always wanted to visit.

For some of us, that hasn’t happened. You see – we suddenly found we cannot afford it.

Two Startling Facts About Older People Right Here in Knox County

  • 11% of those 65 and older are living in poverty.
  • 26% more are in the Alice class ((Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). Most of these are struggling to pay their bills. As soon as money comes in, it’s gone. They are always one step away from a major financial disaster.

That’s 37% of people. 1 out of every 3 people you see or know over 65 is struggling to survive.  This is America, the land of opportunity.  It’s not supposed to be that way.

How Did This Happen?

These people never made enough while they were working. Up to 2018, the average hourly pay for a low- income person in this area was $9 to $11. In 2019, it started to increase but not dramatically.

In earlier years, they made even less per hour.

They never made enough to provide all they needed for their spouses, their children or even themselves. Nor could they save money.

Even those who made $15 to $20 an hour and had a spouse and two children found it difficult to save money if the spouse did not work. They were living paycheck to paycheck.

Most of the companies they worked for did not have a pension plan. If their company had a 401K plan, they never were able to put any money into it.

Those who were able to put money into a 401K plan never were taught how to manage it. They also could not afford a financial adviser. So, they just went with the investments they were first offered.

Their investments went up when the markets went up and down when the markets dropped. They never made much. Some even lost most or all of what they had invested.

A person’s monthly Social Security benefit is determined by how much a person earns during their working years. If they don’t earn much, their monthly Social Security benefit will be low.

Low wages over the years have led to the 37% of those 65 and older living in poverty or being a member of the ALICE class.

There are others not living in poverty nor members of the ALICE class. These are couples who are doing ok. Then suddenly one dies and the spouse is now alone. The Social Security benefit for the one who dies stops. The spouse only has their monthly Social Security benefit or a surviving spouse benefit.

Monthly expenses do not drop in half after a spouse dies. Suddenly the surviving spouse realizes they cannot afford to live as they were. They can no longer afford to stay in their home or apartment and have to move to a cheaper place.

Many are people in their 80’s. Just imagine the trauma they experience

Deteriorating Health.

As we age, our health deteriorates. We start to have aches and pains we never did before and then more serious conditions.  Most common are

  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Obesity

The impact on those living in poverty or members of the ALICE class is really severe. Yes, at 65 they became eligible for Medicare.  Their hospitalizations are covered by Part A. Part B covers their visits to doctors and services they receive outside of a hospital confinement.

While the charges for most hospitalizations are covered in full, a patient may have to pay a portion of the doctor’s charges and of those charges for services outside of a hospital.

There are plans, Medigap plans, which can be purchased to pay for some or all of the charges Medicare Parts A and B don’t.  These have a separate premium.  People living in poverty or members of the ALICE class may not be able to afford them.

Those in Poverty or the ALICE class frequently do not see a doctor until they have a serious illness. By this time, their situations are severe. They need more services which cost more money. They need to take money they have for groceries, utilities or other necessary services to pay for these.

Prescription Drugs.

Medicare Part A or Part B does not pay for prescription drugs.  People can get coverage for prescription drugs through Part D. However, they have to pay a premium for it – an additional cost for them. Part D may not cover the entire cost.

Drug costs have been rising.  Many have reached the point where people can no longer afford them even with Part D coverage.

Those who can’t afford a prescription will either not take the drug as frequently as their doctor wanted or won’t get the prescription filled at all.

For years we have been told about . . .

. . . How Great Our Health Care System is and How Much Better It is Than That in European Countries

Those have a socialized system. There, it’s difficult to get to see a doctor quickly. The waiting lists for needed surgical procedures is long.

Currently, the United States ranks 37th in the world in health care. Surprising all of those European countries criticized for their health care systems are ranked higher than ours.

Most prescription drugs in America are also more expensive than in those countries.

The Covid-19 Pandemic

Making matters worse is the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This pandemic has hit older people harder than any other age group. Here in Knox County, almost 12% of those 65 and older who have contracted Covid-19 have been hospitalized.  62% of those hospitalized have died.

Older people have been warned to protect themselves from getting it. Unfortunately, they have had to isolate themselves from everyone else.  Many of those 80 and older have rarely been out of their homes since March of 2020.

The only ones most have been in touch with have been family members. Even these contacts have been less frequent than desired.

The main way for those housebound to stay in touch with the outside world is to go online, through Facebook or with Zoom meetings,

Sadly, the Internet age and going online has bypassed older people. Many don’t have computers or even smartphones. There is a learning curve for those who do have computers. They have a problem getting online and checking Facebook.

They are totally alone. That has led to loneliness which has turned into depression.

These are the Major Problems.

 What Do We Do About Them?

Do We Do Nothing?

Definitely not.

Some say the only reason these people are where they are is because they brought it on themselves.

  • If they had looked for better jobs and made more money, they would have had a higher monthly Social Security benefit.
  • They would have been able to have a 401K plan.
  • They would have been able to save money.

They just had no ambition. They didn’t want to work. They didn’t want to make more money.

That may have been true for a very small number – not 37%.

Sad but True . . .

. . . Hourly wages for comparable work in other parts of the country are much higher than they are here in Knox County.

Businesses and companies locally are making a good profit. However, most goes to the executives at the top. The income of those at the bottom never increases at the same rate as those in management. This has to stop.

Stopping It Today Will Not Change . . .

. . . the monthly benefit people 65 and older receive from Social Security. Those in congress and the senate have to change to the current system.

There needs to be a floor, a minimum Social Security benefit, higher than the poverty rate, a person will receive.

Another problem is monthly Social Security benefits have not kept pace with inflation.  It’s possible for a person 85 or older today to qualify for welfare because the buying power of their Monthly Social Security benefit has dropped.  I talked about this in an earlier post, Is Social Security Forcing Older People onto Welfare?

The reason for this is the Consumer Price index currently being used. It does not adequately reflect the prices on most items seniors buy. A switch needs to be made to a better one.  Only Congress can change this.

In October of 2020, Social Security announced the 2021 Cost-of-Living increase for those receiving monthly Social Security Benefits would be 1.3%.

Shortly afterwards, two congressmen introduced a bill to raise the Cost-of-Living increase in 2021 from 1.3% to 3%. This was to be a one- time increase. Needless to say, that bill went nowhere. Nothing was done.   With the 1.3% increase, older people are falling further behind.

Charges for Medical Services and Prescription Drugs

On a yearly basis, the cost of many medical services increases dramatically. Those without a good Medigap plan have to pay the cost for these.

For several years now, the cost of prescription drugs has been rising.  Many people cannot afford them.

In many ads for drugs, the pharmaceutical companies have a disclaimer indicating if people cannot afford the drug, they can contact the company about getting their drugs at a reduced price.

The sad thing is, a person has to go on the companies’ websites and fill out applications to see if they qualify for the reduced prices. Many older people are not comfortable about going online. Some of those who do go online have difficulty figuring out how to complete the application.

The only ones with the power to control the costs for medical services or prescription drugs are those in Congress and the Senate.

They can demand the providers of medical services and the drug manufacturers justify the increase in any price any time there is an increase.

Sadly, the providers of medical services and the problem contribute a sizable amount of money to the reelection campaigns of most Congressmen and Senators. Any who speak out against increases run the risk of losing those contributions and seeing them go to those running against them.

Congress and the U S Senate

There are 100 people in the U S Senate.  69 of them are 60 years of age and older.

There are 435 representatives in the U S Congress. 45.6% of them are 60 and older.  Another 28.8% are between the ages of 50 and 59. The total of both is 74.4%

By a large majority, those in the House and Senate are eligible for Social Security and Medicare or soon will be.

  • Are they aware of the problems older people in our country have?
  • Have they been in Washington so long they have lost touch with the people their age who put them in Washington?
  • Are they unaware of the problems people their age have?
  • Are they only concerned about the interests of those who contribute financially to their campaigns and not those of older people who don’t have the money to do so?

Things have to change. We need to let our congressman and senators know 37% of the people in Knox County are really struggling to survive in their golden years. This has to be corrected right now.

There are older people in other areas of Tennessee and in other areas of the country struggling too.  We need to let family members and friends who live in those areas and states know about this. We need to ask them to demand their representatives in Congress and the Senate correct what is happening.

Our senators and congressman are Marsha Blackburn, Bill Hagerty and Tim Burchett.  Let them know about the problems older people are having just to survive. Let them know 36% of the older people in Knox County are living in poverty or part of the ALICE group. Demand they start to take action to help these people.

 You can reach all 3 of them by email, phone or even visit their local offices.  Here is their contact information:

Marsha Blackburn

Email – www.blackburn.senate.gov/email-me

Phone Number – 202-224-3344

Knoxville Office

800 Market St.

Suite 121

Knoxville 37902

Phone – 865-540-3781


Bill Hagerty

Website – www. hagerty.senate.gov

Phone Number – 202-224-4944

Knoxville Office

800 Market St.

Suite 112

Knoxville 37902

Phone – 865-545-4253

Tim Burchett

Email – https://burchett.house.gov/zip-code-lookup?form=/contact/email-me

Phone Number – 202-225-5435

Knoxville Office

800 Market St.

Suite 110

Knoxville 37902

Phone – 865-523-3772


Do this today.  Every day you delay, these older people living around you are struggling!


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is bob.ooablog@gmail.com.