Against the backdrop of a shifting economy, a new study by AARP examining the health and welfare of America's 50+ population shows an increased reliance on Social Security among other significant factors.
AARP's second annual quality of life index, The State of 50+ America 2005, examines the well-being of Americans ages 50 and older by analyzing 25 key indicators and tracking over time measurements on economic and health status, consumption/social/lifestyle, and independent living/long-term care.
In short, AARP President Marie Smith said, "the study found that good is not always good enough." She added, "there were signs of improvement over the past decade and slight improvements over the past year in many areas, but incomes of Americans 50 and older were below their 1999 levels and reliance on Social Security has increased, not declined, in recent years."
Report findings about lower incomes rates and a greater reliance on Social Security are of critical importance to the current debate about Social Security solvency.
Among the key indicators, the report looks at health care costs, coverage, access and quality. Its special health section focuses attention on the challenges facing the U.S. health care system, especially the need to restrain the growth in health care spending while getting the most value for that spending.
In particular, medical bills over the previous year were considered a problem for one in five older Americans. These bills were twice as likely to be a financial problem for individuals whose debt had increased from the previous year and more of a problem for people age 65+. While people age 65 and older have the benefit of access to Medicare coverage, the premiums for Part B Medicare have been rising at double digit rates for the past several years.
AARP Director of Policy and Strategy John Rother explained, "Income stagnation may also explain the fact that one-third of those aged 50 to 64 express concerns about their ability to pay for future health expenses."
The report finds the "youngest" (50-64) age group's fortunes improved over the past decade on 10 indicators and declined on five. Overall, the "middle" (65 to 74) and "oldest" (75+) age groups did better-each improved on 12 and declined on only three indicators. However, progress, where it existed, was often slow or uneven. For example, although incomes grew in the past decade and in the past year, incomes in 2003 were actually lower for people aged 50 to 64 than they were in 1998 and lower than in 1997 for people aged 75 and older. Real growth in Social Security benefits coupled with real declines in total income mean that people aged 62 and older were even more dependent on Social Security for their retirement income than they were a decade ago, underscoring the need to strengthen Social Security's guaranteed benefit, and not subject beneficiaries to any increased risk.