“IF I HAD A STROKE AND WANTED TO COME HOME, I COULDN’T AFFORD TO GET SOMEONE TO TAKE CARE OF ME, TO KEEP ME OUT OF A NURSING HOME.”
—Vera Haile, 75,
clothing at thrift shops and has eliminated dentist visits. And
though she recognizes she’s better off than some, she worries
about the future. “If I had a stroke and wanted to come home
to recuperate, I couldn’t afford to get someone to take care of
me, to keep me out of a nursing home,” she says.
In 2009 Haile joined an effort to get California to adopt
the Elder Economic Security Standard Index. Developed
by WOW and the Gerontology Institute at the University
of Massachusetts Boston, the index is a more fine-grained
standard of elder poverty than the one developed by the
National Academy of Sciences: it breaks down the numbers
county by county, calculating how much income seniors
need depending on their health conditions and housing situ-
ations. The campaign almost succeeded—last September the
California legislature passed a bill requiring certain agencies
to use the index as an additional planning tool. Though the
bill did not expand government benefits, Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger vetoed it, saying it would create “cost pres-
sures at a time when there is no ability to increase
by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, used the National Academy’s
recommendations to recalculate the city’s poverty levels. For
seniors, the academy found the real citywide poverty rate
was 32 percent—well above the census figure of 18 percent.
That doesn’t translate immediately into more benefits, but
Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs says the data will help city of-
ficials plan for an aging population.
Regardless of the California bill’s
defeat, some localities around the country are
attempting to measure poverty more accurately. In 2008 the New York City Center for
Economic Opportunity, an agency established
Back in Las Vegas, Gail Halverson rises at 5:00
each day to get ready for work. She drops off Lewis at the
nonprofit Adult Day Care Center of Las Vegas—which waives
his fees and provides two meals a day (the center doesn’t turn
anyone away)—then hurries to her job. The Halversons,
heartened by everyday kindnesses (Gail’s employer often
sends her home with extra meals from lunch), and well
aware that they are not alone, soldier on. “We could get help
from our church as far as food,” says Gail, who is Mormon.
“But I know there are people who need help more than we
do. That would be my absolute last resort.”
Growing up, Gail was imbued with a firm sense of the
American Dream. “My parents were military,” she says.
“You paid your bills, you honored your country, you did
what you could for other people. Then you retired and
enjoyed your life.” Those days are gone, if they ever
truly existed. Today, as Gail Halverson learned,
falling out of the middle class is easy. “I don’t
care what your income bracket is,” she says.
“I don’t think anybody is secure.” ;
For tips and
finding a job and
making ends meet,
Barry Yeoman last wrote for AARP THE MAGAZINE
about job loss among older workers.