By Santiago Montiel
Following the economic recession, data confirms that the quality of life for the elderly in Michigan is increasingly worse, but experts differ on the changes it has had.
Wider Opportunities for Women is a national non-profit organization that developed an Elder Economic Security Standard Index, or Elder Index. The index measures how much money is needed to cover all costs of an elder (food, transportation, housing, health care.)
The Elder Index for Ingham County fares worse than the average American county when it comes to costs. For a single elder in Ingham, the annual income required to pay off every expense, is $29,268 if he or she owns a house with mortgage. The national equivalent is almost $400 less. If the elder does not have a mortgage, Ingham County elders need $19,824, while average Americans require $18,864, a difference of $960. These estimates are done considering that the elder has an excellent health. According to the statistics, poor health would raise costs by almost $3,000.
Some residents however, enjoy what Lansing has to provide. Jane Anderson and Grace Hamilton, two retirees from East Lansing said that despite the high costs, Lansing is a nice place to live for the elderly. They said they liked having Michigan State University’s campus and resources like the Wharton Center nearby, and had no worries about their financial future.
In 2011, “Seniors Count!” an organization that provides information about elders in Michigan, released a report that “evaluated the economic security of Michigan residents 65 and older.”
The report states that 9.7 percent of Michigan elders living in poverty announced by the U.S. Census is an understatement when compared to the Elder Index. The index shows that 37.5 percent of Michigan elders fall under the Elder Index indicators and are therefore economically unsafe.
In Ingham County, about 12 percent fall below the government poverty line, but almost 32 percent fall under the Elder Index line.
The U.S. Census indicates that the average income per person in Ingham County is $24,322, and the average Social Security pension gave out $15,144 per year.
Leslie Papke, Economics teacher at MSU and co-author of the publication, “Public Pension Plans: Myths and Realities for State Budgets,” said that social security is not intended to be the only source of income for the elderly.
Data from, “Seniors Count!” reported that about one-third of Michigan seniors depend on Social Security for more than 90 percent of their income. Two-thirds of that group is economically insecure when measured by the Elder Index.
Papke also said that Lansing and Michigan are difficult places for elders to get a job.
“Michigan has a higher unemployment rate than other states, so it must be hard to find jobs,” Papke said. “And they are competing with students for positions.”
She added that the rising levels of poverty among elders might be due to the fact that they are living longer and using up all their savings, but she said that children are the most vulnerable group to poverty.
“As a group the elderly are doing really well,” Papke said.
Kate White, executive director for Elder Law of Michigan, a non-profit organization that provides information and services to elders, said that most people focus only on social security, but a comfortable retirement consists of three things: social security, pensions, and savings.
White said that the economic recession was a major cause for the increasing number of elders who live in poverty or economic insecurity.
“Many people who planned and invested lost a lot in the stock market,” White said. “They planned but the recession robbed them out of their retirement savings.”
She added that the recession also forced people out of jobs and some were forced to retire early.
White also said that women and people of color tend to have had jobs without pensions and tend to earn less, making their social security, pension, and savings much smaller. According to data from, “Seniors Count!” 54.7 percent of African-Americans live below the index thresholds, while 35.3 percent of Caucasians live below the thresholds. Women are also more vulnerable because they outlive their husbands, making costs rely only on them.
Data from Elder Law of Michigan and Michigan Office of Services to the Aging show that in 2008, African American seniors with low incomes were much higher than white seniors.
White also talked about the difference in quality nursing homes in Michigan. She said that a good nursing home costs around $70,000 per year, a price that few can afford.
“There are some wonderful nursing home facilities in our state, and there are others that are very depressing places to live,” White said.
In December 2011, the Detroit Free Press released a series of articles and graphics analyzing the situation of nursing homes in Michigan. The article, “Troubled nursing homes aren’t closed,” said that three fourths of homes received at least one serious violation in the years 2009-2011. Medicare nursing home ratings reports that there are 10 homes within 10 miles from the center of Lansing. Out of those, two have a five-star overall rating, two have four stars, two have three stars, three have two stars, and one has one star.
In Michigan, the possible expansion of Medicaid would help several low-income citizens receive medical insurance. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nine percent of national Medicaid enrollees are elders, but they represent 20 percent of Medicaid expenditures.
The CBPP also estimates that if Medicaid coverage were expanded in Michigan, 345,000 adults would be able to enroll.
The expansion would cost the state $1.7 billion more to the already $2.4 billion needed to pay out Medicaid costs.
Gov. Rick Snyder has been pushing for the expansion of Medicaid, but has faced a lot of opposition for this proposal especially from Republicans. Snyder presented this action in his proposed budget and said, “This makes sense for the physical and financial health of Michigan.”