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The lives of elderly Central Valley residents are in jeopardy
Jeffrey R. Lewis

Higher rents, electric bills, steeper gas, and prescription drug prices are pinching almost everyone. But the older population on fixed incomes is being squeezed hardest. The economic challenges facing families across the Central Valley continue to exacerbate. And, for those aged 60 and older, the financial hardship is particularly pronounced.

A recent survey sponsored by Legacy Health Endowment and the EMC Health Foundation sampled more than 500 people aged 60 and older across Merced and Stanislaus counties. Our research revealed an aging population uniquely and deeply affected by inflation and the skyrocketing cost of living.

The survey underscored that many people over the age 60 struggle to make ends meet. It illustrated a landscape that has impacted their physical and mental health and will affect them for years.

Rising inflation and sharp increases in gasoline and food costs have forced many elderly families to choose between buying gas for their car, putting food on the table, or purchasing medication. For some, it is a daily struggle. They are forced to squeeze every penny from a meager monthly budget. Older people are deciding what they can skip day by day. Some are simply choosing to eat in an unhealthy manner or go hungry.

A majority (56%) of those reached in the survey reported that they live paycheck to paycheck. As a result:

· 12% have postponed going to a doctor

· 18% said that they do not have sufficient financial resources to purchase food

· 19% eat fewer than three meals a day because of limited resources

· 26% said that they had to choose between purchasing food and gasoline or gasoline and medicine

Those in the worst physical shape, who have poor mental health or have the lowest incomes, are the most likely to experience food insecurity. Those living alone may be more likely to run out of food before their next check.

While the challenges facing senior citizens across the Central Valley are emblematic of those facing retirees across America, rural communities, in particular, are adversely impacted. People in the survey think reducing the cost of living should be the top priority for California’s elected officials.

Other highlights from the survey include:

· 50% of the respondents believed that tackling inflation and reducing the costs confronting senior citizens was paramount;

· 36% said improving the economy and creating good new jobs was also a priority;

· 71% that the rising cost of living had impacted their ability to pay their household expenses;

· 92% are concerned about inflation and the rising cost of living;

· 69% feel anxious, stressed or overwhelmed because of rising costs; and

· 52% said it is difficult to pay their household bills.

Without a strong economy, the challenges facing elderly residents will only worsen as more of them become impoverished. If we do not acknowledge and fix the problem, economic insecurity will continue to upend the lives of retirees across the Central Valley.

The survey was conducted Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2022, by J. Wallin Opinion Research. 500 English and Spanish speakers aged 60 and older who live within one of the 19 ZIP codes in Stanislaus and Merced counties serviced by Legacy Health Endowment were contacted by mobile phone or landline or interviewed online via email invitation. A survey of this size yields a margin of error of +/-4.4% (95% confidence interval).

— Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment and the EMC Health Foundation. The views expressed are his own.