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Recession Impact on Lower-Income Adults

  • Publish Date : 2010/09/14 - (Rev. 2011/01/25)
  • Author : AARP


Struggles low income older adults are facing during the current recession and economic times.

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AARP Survey Looks at Recession's Impact on Lower-Income Adults 45+

Nearly 60% say they are not confident they can pay for basic needs during retirement; 42% rate their health "fair" or "poor," compared to 18% at higher income levels

An AARP report released today for the first time paints a picture of the struggles lower-income older adults are facing during the recession. The AARP Closer Look June 2010 survey found that nearly six in 10 Americans 45+ who make less than $25,000 a year say they are either "not at all" or "not too" confident they will have enough money to pay medical and living expenses in retirement, compared to 36 percent of higher income adults.

More than four in 10 (42 percent) lower-income older adults rate their health as "fair" or "poor," compared to only 18 percent of those who earn more than $25,000 a year. Additionally, many report they are struggling to meet basic needs, like paying for food and electricity, heat and water bills.

"While the recession has been devastating for many older Americans, this recent data indicates lower-income folks are being hit particularly hard," said Jo Ann Jenkins, president of AARP's affiliated charity, the AARP Foundation. "Each day, millions are choosing between essentials like buying groceries or paying for prescriptions. It's a devastating choice that no one should have to make."

Similar to the general population, lower-income older adults have cut back, but they are doing so in greater numbers. Nearly 40 percent had to cancel or postpone needed healthcare or dental treatments in the last six months twice as many as higher-income adults. Twenty-three percent skipped doses, cut pills in half or did not fill prescriptions, compared with 15 percent of higher-income people. Lower-income adults are twice as likely to have looked for more affordable housing in the last six months compared to higher-income levels. And half used their car less to cut down on gas costs.

Additional findings for all income levels indicate the continual struggles older Americans are experiencing in tough economic times:

  • More than one in four adults 45+ (28 percent) stopped contributing to retirement savings in the past six months, and 14 percent of adults 45 to 64 reported having to prematurely withdraw funds from retirement savings vehicles a trend which has increased at a significant rate over the recession.
  • When asked about current value of retirement savings available, nearly half (48 percent) reported having less than $50,000 in savings, with 16 percent of those reporting no savings at all.
  • With many older workers currently facing extended unemployment, a large majority (63 percent) of respondents said that, based on what they have experienced or observed, older workers face age discrimination in the workplace.
  • Twenty percent of people 45+ reported problems paying their medical bills in the last six months. The percentages were significantly higher for Hispanics (29 percent) and African-Americans (33 percent).
  • More than a quarter of people 45+ have put off or postponed getting needed health care or dental treatments or services in the last six months.
  • Gas prices continue to be a challenge for more than a third (35 percent) of people age 45+, but finding adequate public transportation alternatives is also a problem, 34 percent say.
  • A third of people age 45+ report are fixing up their homes to stay there longer even as almost half (45 percent) note that their community lacks affordable housing if they chose to move.

AARP Foundation (www.aarp.org/foundation) and AARP Real Relief (www.aarp.org/realrelief) have resources to help lower-income older Americans make ends meet, including federal benefits assistance, money management programs and tips to cut expenses.

AARP Closer Look is a twice-yearly poll to help understand the effect of social and economic changes on baby boomers and older Americans. The full survey is available at www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-09-2010/closer-look-econ-0610.html.


ICR conducted the Closer Look Survey for AARP via telephone between June 9 and June 30, 2010, among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents 45+. One hundred respondents were Hispanic and 100 were African American. The margin of error is +/- 3.35 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

AARP Foundation is AARP's affiliated charity. Foundation programs provide security, protection and empowerment for older persons in need. Low-income older workers receive the job training and placement they need to re-join the workforce. Free tax preparation is provided for low- and moderate-income individuals, with special attention to those 60 and older. The Foundation's litigation staff protects the legal rights of older Americans in critical health, long-term care, consumer and employment situations. Additional programs provide information, education and services to ensure that people over 50 lead lives of independence, dignity and purpose. Foundation programs are funded by grants, tax-deductible contributions and AARP. For more information about AARP Foundation, please log on to www.aarp.org/foundation.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan social welfare organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.1 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website, AARP.org. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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