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A Year-End Look at the Economic Slowdown's Impact on Middle-Aged and Older Americans

Throughout 2008, the economy was battered by falling housing prices and increasing foreclosure rates, record stock market losses, rising unemployment, and weak consumer spending. In fact, as 2008 drew to a close, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared that the economy had been in a recession for the past year.

Given this climate, AARP chose to conduct a survey of middle-aged and older Americans in December 2008 in order to learn how they had fared over the past 12 months and to examine their expectations of the government during these difficult times.

Key findings of the December survey, along with comparisons to a similar survey conducted in April 2008, reveal:

  • An overwhelming majority of Americans ages 45+ believe that the economy is in bad shape. As a result of the economic downturn, the majority say that they cut back on entertainment spending (68%) and eating out (64%) during 2008. Additionally, 52 percent had more difficulty paying for essential items such as food, gas, and medicine in 2008, and 44 percent found it more difficult to pay for utilities. Not surprisingly, more respondents reported cutbacks in entertainment spending during the past 12 months in December than in April 2008. However, reports of difficulty paying for essential items dropped from April to December—most likely a result of the decline in energy prices in the second half of the year.
  • Relatively few (9%) respondents mentioned in December that they had lost a job during the past 12 months. Although job loss was much less common than cutbacks in spending and difficulties paying bills, the share of 45+ adults affected by job loss grew from April to December.
  • Many middle-aged and older Americans expressed concerns about being able to pay for health care expenses and being able to afford their mortgage and rent payments over the next 12 months. Furthermore, 29 percent of respondents think that it is likely that their health insurance coverage will be reduced or eliminated in the next 12 months, and 31 percent of employed workers ages 45+ express fears that their job could be eliminated.
  • The majority of middle-aged and older Americans are looking to the government to help Americans who have lost jobs and health insurance and those who risk losing their homes. Specifically, the majority of adults ages 45+ say that they expect the government to take action by extending unemployment benefits, facilitating access to health care coverage, making home mortgages more affordable, and helping people who face foreclosure remain in their homes.


The findings are based on a national telephone survey of 1,097 adults ages 45 and older commissioned by AARP. The interviews were conducted by Woelfel Research, Inc. on December 12-18, 2008. For more information, contact S. Kathi Brown at 202-434-6296. (32 pages)

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