Older Americans faced more financial challenges during Covid than in other wealthy nations

The Guardian - Wed Sep 15 04:01

Older Americans were more likely to suffer pandemic-related economic difficulties compared with older citizens of other wealthy countries, according to a new survey from the Commonwealth Fund.

In a survey taken by adults 65 and older in 11 of the world’s wealthiest nations, 19% of US adults reported using up all or most of their savings or losing sources of income during the pandemic – the highest percentage of any country. The percentage is nearly seven times higher than Germany, where 3% of older adults reported economic difficulties.

The gap was even more pronounced when the survey results were disaggregated by race. Latino and Black Americans had higher rates of economic difficulties compared with white Americans, with 39% of Latino Americans and 32% of Black Americans reporting hardships compared to 14% of White Americans.

“Despite having health insurance, older adults in the US face far greater economic challenges from Covid-19 compared to their counterparts in other high income countries,” Reginald Williams, lead author of the survey, told reporters in a press call.

The survey confirms what has long been known about the racial wealth gaps in the US, especially among older Americans. An April 2021 report from the Congressional Research Service reported that 18% of elderly Black Americans and 17.1% of Hispanic Americans were in poverty in 2019, compared to 6.8% of non-Hispanic White Americans.

The survey also found that older Americans with multiple chronic health conditions were slightly more likely to have health appointments cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, with 37% reporting disruptions in their care. Older Americans were also more likely than their counterparts in most other countries to report not receiving necessary help with their daily activities during the pandemic.

While older Americans are eligible for government healthcare through Medicare and assistance through social security, many older Americans have trouble paying for bills, especially healthcare bills not covered fully by Medicare.

Researchers behind the survey recommend that leaders in the US work toward reducing care barriers for elderly Americans, including increasing affordability of and access to sources of primary care and broadly enhancing social services that can address inequalities.

“The health and financial security of older adults in the US will only improve when our leaders address these disparities and make sure affordable, high equality care is within reach for all Americans,” Williams said.

The Senior Citizens League, a group that advocates for older Americans, is campaigning for Congress to distribute a fourth round of stimulus checks worth $1,400 just for older Americans who are social security recipients. Americans age 62 or older are eligible for social security. A survey from the organization showed that a third of American retirees spent emergency savings during the pandemic, and 19% visited a food pantry or applied for food stamps.