The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Aging and Economic Vulnerability: Causes, Consequences, and Potential Interventions

Friday, January 18, 2013: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Executive Center 3A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Aging Services and Gerontology
Symposium Organizer:
Amanda Lehning, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Limited attention has been paid to economic vulnerability among the elderly. This is due in part to a decline in the official poverty rate for older adults, which was 35% in the 1960s and is only 10% today. However, because the federal poverty line fails to take into account all the basic expenses of older adults, particularly health care expense, this measure underestimates the extent of economic vulnerability among this segment of the population. For example, research in California indicates that more than half of older adults living alone and more than one-quarter of older couples lack adequate income to cover basic expenses (Wallace & Molina, 2008). Furthermore, the number of poor or near-poor older adults may increase in the coming years due to the aging of the U.S. population, the loss of retirement savings and decreased home values following the Great Recession, and potential cuts to Social Security benefits. It is therefore a critical time to develop empirical evidence to inform practice and policy interventions aimed at alleviating the causes and consequences of elder economic vulnerability.

The goal of this symposium is to provide an overview of some recent social work research on older adults living in or near poverty. The first two papers focus on the causes of economic vulnerability. The first paper uses a nationally-representative longitudinal data set to examine the impact of chronic health conditions on older adults’ economic security, highlighting how efforts to improve health at younger ages can reduce economic vulnerability later in life. The second paper uses qualitative methods, including in-depth interviews and field observations, to explore perceived pathways to elder homelessness. This paper calls attention to how the accumulation of risk factors over the life course, including barriers to employment, housing, and health care, contributes to elders’ economic vulnerability. The last two papers focus on outcomes associated with economic vulnerability. The third paper investigates how neighborhood influences on health and well-being may differ between those who are economic vulnerable and those who are economically secure. Combining needs assessment data with geographic location data, this paper will include a discussion of implications for interventions designed to create more “age-friendly” neighborhoods. The final paper examines the role of economic security, living alone, and case management services among a sample of homebound elders served by four agencies in New York City, focusing particularly on whether these services reduce the impact of economic vulnerability on functional impairment.

The four papers utilize a variety of methodological approaches to understanding economic vulnerability among older adults and identify the need for interventions at various time points across the life course. Implications for research, policy and practice (both focused specifically on older adults and those at earlier stages of the life course) will be discussed.

* noted as presenting author
The Effects of Chronic Health Conditions On Income Adequacy
Karen A. Zurlo, PhD, Rutgers University
Age-Friendly Neighborhoods and Economic Vulnerability
Amanda Lehning, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Richard Smith, PhD, Wayne State University; Ruth E. Dunkle, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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