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Press Release

Monday, December 8, 2008


Press Release

For Immediate Release: December 8, 2008

Contact: Anuradha Mittal, (510) 469-5228; [email protected]

A New Report From the Oakland Institute on Poverty Among Seniors and its Root Causes

Going Gray in the Golden State

The Reality of Poverty Among Seniors in Oakland, California

Oakland, CA: A new report from the Oakland Institute documents the root causes of poverty among seniors in Oakland, California — the city with the largest population of impoverished seniors in the state that leads the nation in concentration of seniors living in poverty.

“It is astonishing that the state of California, which is the seventh largest economy in the world and accounts for 13 percent of America’s real GDP growth, has the highest number of elders living in poverty,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute and the author of the study, Going Gray in the Golden State: The Reality of Poverty Among Seniors in Oakland, California. “These vulnerable seniors — close to 400,000 Californians 65 and older — are acutely affected by the growing recession, which is causing deep reductions in safety net services.”

Drawing upon survey data as well as first-hand testimonies from seniors, advocates, and social service providers, the report examines the lived experiences of seniors and contrasts their reality with the myths that obscure their dire situation. “Myths such as, ‘If you work hard and manage your money well, you’ll be secure in retirement’ are often used to pin the responsibility for economic woes on individuals, effectively passing the buck onto the backs of the most vulnerable and preventing action from being taken to ensure seniors’ welfare. The reality is that insecurity among seniors is influenced by low wages, the high cost of living, rising health care costs, and grossly inadequate public safety net programs for the elderly poor,” said Anuradha Mittal.

“The seniors of St. Mary’s Center have courageously stepped forward to add their voices, photos, and artwork to the report to detail the reality of seniors living in poverty. Their stories echo those of people around the world who have been facing skyrocketing food prices over the last three years. The resulting wave of hunger has hit our nation, too, exacerbating an already dire situation for the elderly poor,” said Carol Johnson Executive Director of St. Mary’s Center, an organization that provides comprehensive services for Oakland’s homeless and poorest elderly population.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s $510 million line-item veto cuts in the 2008-2009 budget are bound to make things worse. Schwarzenegger’s cuts include the Medi-Cal program, Multi-Purpose Senior Services Program, Senior Employment Program, Home Delivered Meals Programs, Adult Protective Services, and several community-based programs that provide vital services to vulnerable seniors. His cuts also permanently suspend the state’s Cost of Living Adjustment in 2008 and 2009. California’s seniors have already been deeply affected by the succession of cuts that have reduced the value of the SSI grant to just 77 percent of its’ 1990 value and cannot sustain further drastic cuts.

The Oakland Institute’s report also highlights successful strategies for both elder care and advocacy, and calls for municipal and state planners to enhance the quality of services provided to seniors by drawing upon the successes of integrative, community empowerment-based models as exemplified by non-profit service organizations such as St. Mary’s Center.

Released on October 17,th which marks World Poverty Day, the report is a reminder that the fulfillment of basic needs – food, shelter, healthcare – are not lofty goals. They are basic essentials necessary to ensure human dignity for young and old.


Myths Tackled by the Report

Myth 1: If you work hard and manage your money well, you’ll be secure in retirement.

Reality: Diligent labor does not guarantee security in one’s older years. Insecurity among seniors is influenced by low wages, high costs of living, rising health care costs, and changing family dynamics that distance elders from previous forms of social kinship and community.

Myth 2: “Public Programs” such as social security, food stamps, Medicare and other welfare programs adequately meet the needs of low-income seniors.

Reality: SSI, food stamps and the overall public safety net is grossly inadequate. For instance, the average Social Security payment of $12,642 is not enough to live on, and yet, one out of three seniors in California relies exclusively on Social Security to cover their basic costs.

Myth 3: Only a small proportion of urban seniors live in poverty, and they tend to be alcoholics, lazy, or mentally ill.

Reality: Substance abusers, felons, and the mentally disabled constitute only a small minority of low-income seniors. Women and people of color constitute the majority.

The Full Report Can be Found Here.