Reflections on Seniors' Poverty

I work at the public library, and have met several seniors who have been dealing with poverty and social isolation. One of my patrons is over 90 years old, and agreed to share her thoughts with me.

“As I get older, I feel more insecure. I don’t feel in control”, she told me. “When you’re old and weak, you have nobody to speak for you, and you’re in jeopardy in many ways.”

According to a 2014 study, as many as 600,000 seniors are living below the poverty line, and the future does not look much better.  And for my library patron, it has been a bewildering change.

“I used to make $35 for 40 hours of work,” she said, “The most I ever made was $100/week. I retired when I was 60, and started working when I was 20. I worked as a secretary. Prices were lower, rents were lower. I couldn’t save any money, but I didn’t owe any money.”

Now, in 2016, it can cost up to $2000/month to live in municipal nursing home. A retirement residence can cost up to $7000/month. Nursing homes provide more care, and retirement residences can be an option for more able-bodied, but in all cases, it is not economically feasible for all.

With the government thinking about changing the pension allotment, what will it mean for the average senior? And after reading a few articles, one has to ask who is the average senior?? In 2012, the average senior living alone had an income of $25,000, and 28% of seniors were classified as low income, defined “ low income if its income is less than half of the median income of all households.”

While many seniors learn to economize, and make the best of a greatly reduced income, it is those who fall through the cracks that cause concern. The system, as it currently exists, gives a CPP payment starting at 60. At 65, you can collect Old Age Pension. If a senior has health issues, or has to pay rent, these are problems that may create stress for someone who may be at risk. With more demands on a small income, how can we expect seniors to be at their best, or even eat properly. My library patron says: “I can’t even afford to eat properly. I should be eating blueberries every day, but it would cost too much to do that.”

From this same person, a senior over 90 years old, I have gotten a look at what life can be life for someone who is socially isolated. Agencies designed to help can only do so much. For people lucky enough to have families and friends, stress and finances may be straightened out, and dealt with, but for those who find themselves isolated, it is difficult to find help. For many seniors, help may be a phone call away. Seniors helpline: 519-667-6600 provides free and confidential telephone support, and 211 is an information service that can provide information about many topics including recreation, home care services, and grocery help.

Karen Hernandez works for the London Public Library.