Philadelphia’s elderly population, proportionally second largest of the nation’s ten most-populated cities, is facing a quiet and pervasive epidemic.
According to the Census Bureau, there were more than 60,000 impoverished Philadelphians over the age of 55 in 2012. Particularly vulnerable to the affects of low income and isolation, Philadelphia’s oldest residents are facing the struggles of aging while suffering from systemic poverty.
The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, a nonprofit funded in part by the Older Americans Act and the Pennsylvania Lottery, aims to serve seniors with housing, food and other care resources. According to their 2014 report, 28,000 seniors skip meals due to lack of money, and more than 75,000 say their homes are in need of repair. Seniors often fall victim to neglect, isolation and dwindling mobility, but in Philadelphia, where 19 percent of the elderly population is living below the poverty line, many people are left unable to cope with aging.
Allen Glicksman, the director of research and evaluation at PCA, said seniors are particularly vulnerable to poverty because of the poverty line itself.
“There are other arguments about the poverty level creating problems, that it’s really too low,” said Glicksman. “Many programs for the poor are for people making 100-125 percent less than the poverty level. There are still a lot of poor people out there who still don’t qualify for some of these these programs.”
Since the 1960s poverty has been defined by an index created based on consumer food budgets. Now, more than five decades since its creation, many involved in addressing the issue of poverty say the federal definition perpetuates its impacts.
According to Jo Reed, the director of The Elder Economic Security Initiative, this definition of poverty causes a massive imbalance in the distribution of financial aid and preparedness for seniors leaving the workforce. For many seniors who depend on government-funded fixed incomes, the outdated poverty index can be a reason why they are kept in low-income brackets.
According to Wider Opportunities for Women, the average Social Security payment in 2007 was $7,476 while the average Elder Index, based on monthly expenses, was $16,343, making the Social Security income gap a negative $8,597. This leaves the average Social Security-dependent senior thousands of dollars short for their monthly expenses and unable to pursue more affordable options.
Although Glicksman believes a solution to Philadelphia’s soaring poverty can come from cooperation between many institutions, he admits the path is long and uncertain.
“I think there are a lot of people interested with the issue, but I don’t think it’s easy and I don’t think anybody has a magic plan for it,” Glicksman said. “I think the challenges will grow.”
– Text and images by Meaghan Pogue and Mamaye Mesfin