Financial Health of Low to Moderate Income 50+ Adults Concerning

Lisa Marsh Ryerson is president of AARP Foundation, the charitable affiliate of AARP. A bold, disciplined and collaborative leader, she sets the Foundation’s strategic direction and steers its efforts to realize an audacious vision: a country free of poverty, where no older person feels vulnerable. Since she took the helm, AARP Foundation has developed pioneering initiatives, explored new avenues for collaboration, and secured unprecedented funding to support programs that truly change lives.

 

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Speaker 3:            You're listening to Boomers Today, with your host, Frank Sampson.

 

Frank:                   Welcome to Boomers Today. I'm Frank Sampson and each week we bring you important, useful information on issues facing baby boomers, their parents, and other loved ones. We always have a great show, but today we've got a special guest that we've had on before, and I'm thrilled to have her on again. We have with us Lisa Marsh Ryerson who is the president of AARP Foundation. The charitable affiliate of AARP. A bold discipline and collaborative leader, she sets the foundation's strategic direction and steers its efforts to realize an audacious vision, a country free of poverty where no older person feels vulnerable. Since she took the helm, AARP Foundation has developed pioneering initiatives, explored new avenues for collaboration, and secured unprecedented funding to support programs that truly change lives. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us again on Boomers Today. I really appreciate it.

 

Lisa:                       Frank, I appreciate all you do on Boomers Today, and I'm delighted to be with you.

 

Frank:                   Yeah, we're thrilled to have you. I know that there's a specific report that came out that we're going to be talking about, but I thought it would just be a good idea before we get into that, give us a quick overview of AARP Foundation. AARP is a household name. People know it. But the foundation, tell us a little bit more about that.

 

Lisa:                      Yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about our work. You know that's my favorite conversation point, Frank. But AARP Foundation is the charitable affiliate of AARP and we stand for a future without senior poverty and are keenly focused on creating and advancing effective solutions that help low income older adults meet the essentials in life. We're about increasing economic opportunity and social connections for low income older adults.

 

Frank:                   That's a wonderful organization and thank you for all you do.

 

Lisa:                       Thank you.

 

Frank:                   You've come out with this new report. It underscores the difficult financial situation facing so many older adults in America, and I don't know if you want to, I guess the report considers them older, 50 plus and more in the low to moderate income range. Tell us a little bit more about some of those highlights because some of it was a little disturbing to me as I read through it. Tell us more.

 

Lisa:                       Let's talk about it because you certainly are steeped in this field, so I know we're going to have a very interesting conversation. So as you know, the work of the foundation is based in creating and advancing an effective solution. We are continually on a quest to deepen our research and our understanding and insights from the low to moderate income 50 plus. We are really delighted to support this study by the Center for Financial Services Innovation that would confirm insights we had and give us new information. Frank, it is, as you said, disturbing in that, but not surprising for those of us who work in this field.

 

Frank:                    Right. That's true.

 

Lisa:                       Don't you agree?

 

Frank:                    I would agree. It wasn't surprising as I went through it, but it's still hard to read.

 

Lisa:                       It is. It is hard to read, and I think that the Center for Financial Services Innovation did a great job of both further analyzing data from their health, their pulse survey on financial fitness in essence, but they also developed personas and helped focus groups to just focus on the LMI population in 50 plus. It confirmed what we know and that is that ten's of millions of older adults are struggling. In fact, it estimates that 50 million people who are 50 and older are low to moderate income and that of that 50 million, 83% meaning 42 million people, just a huge number, are challenged or struggling with one or multiple aspects of their financial health.

 

Frank:                    Amazing.

 

Lisa:                        It is.

 

Frank:                   How have things historically, from what was I guess if you want to call it a normal type of retirement? Not that many years ago and how have things changed from then until now. Used to be people would retire, they'd have their social security, they'd have their pension, and they'd get their mortgage paid off and all that. Things have changed. Tell us what the study showed regarding that.

 

Lisa:                       Yeah, they really have Frank and when I'm hearing you talk about it, you're reminding me that in some senses we still have that image of the three-legged stool of what will help us be stewarded into a very financially healthy later years or older age. The image of I'm going to have one job, and it's a stable job that I have the opportunity to save for my retirement at work and that might have been through a pension plan. That I have the tools, knowledge, and skills to save additional resources that I, of course, will be paying into my social security and then I'm going to be paying down all my debt. But, life is more complex. You know, Frank, I'd be curious about your point of view, that is not at all to suggest that life hasn't always been complex for a number of people. In particular, the study highlights what you and I know and that is that older adults, 50 and older, who are members of marginalized populations, or a specific demographic group had always struggled more. The report calls that to the fore. Right? So that we certainly understand that those who are already low income, older adults of color, older adults with disabilities or ongoing healthcare challenges. Caregivers, the various identities really and the intersectionalities of those identities are brought to the fore in the report, but some things have changed.

 

Lisa:                      That is that rarely do we take a job and stay in that one job or career across our life span. We have older adults who are finding themselves needing to change jobs. Maybe they've been laid off. Maybe they have not completely recovered from job loss or income loss in the recession. We have ageism as you and I know, and we have wage stagnation. I could go on and on about these various factors, and we have less opportunity for individuals to have access to meaningful savings programs at their place of employment, which is so important as well.

 

Frank:                   It's interesting. As you were talking, we're also seeing another trend. I don't mean to digress over the report, but you have-

 

Lisa:                       Please do. Talk about all of it Frank.

 

Frank:                   But it does relate in that we're seeing higher absenteeism and turnover of employees at businesses. Why? Because they're having to take care of an aging parent or have to do caregiver work. This thing just has a domino effect in so many ways.

 

Lisa:                      You know, Frank, you're absolutely right because again, it's a multi, all of the multiple dimensions of life today, right, for all of us so when you talk about the caregiving needs, I think the report calls it the catch-22 of family, right? It's all of the importance of our families. What that means in terms of our connection and our love and our well being, but you have older adults who many of whom are in, still in the sandwich generation. They might still be caring for either caring for or financially caring for children and or grandchildren, all the while caregiving for their parents or older adults in their life who need them. You're absolutely right that there is that. There's also what they call the physical financial fault line. Individuals who have worked really hard and contributed to their workplace, to their family and community, but who then face some health challenges or physical challenges, but still need to earn income. Many, many aspects.

 

Lisa:                       You also touched on debt burden. It used to be that it was always the goal. Pay off your mortgage or pay off your debt before you leave work, but that's less possible for people today.

 

Frank:                    Also, we're seeing, I'm fortunate. My kids, they've done well in their career. They got off mom and dad's payroll at the right time.

 

Lisa:                       Right when you planned, right?

 

Frank:                    Yeah, but I have to say a lot of people of my age or people I know aren't so lucky and they have their kids living with them and grandkids living with them and you know. That puts more of a burden.

 

Lisa:                       It puts more burden-

 

Frank:                    Did the report get into that at all? Into that subject matter?

 

Lisa:                       It certainly does and it gets into as individuals have access to read the report who are listening, it gets into the complexity, right? Our families and our connections are a source of great joy and a source of support, but also there are those challenges. You and I know in the work that we're doing, it's not a surprise that there are family members or children who can't find affordable housing, right? So we know that, the upper end what someone should be spending is 30% of their income and that's the upper end. But for so many older adults and individuals across a life span, they cannot afford the high rents or having access to housing. The report talks about that. It talks about what I always say are the very good and rational choices that the low to moderate income older adults are making about caring for family members. I don't think you or I could imagine if one of our children needed us, we'd be there, right?

 

Frank:                    Right. I know we don't have to get to what's been on the news quite a bit, but the concern about people entering our country, but what hasn't been talked about is how many people are leaving our country to go to other areas to live because they can't afford it here or they need care and they have to actually get care elsewhere. It's a huge issue, what's going on.

 

Lisa:                       It is a huge issue and you're touching on just the issue of access to quality care for all, right? It is the report does, there's a statistic that shows that I think that it's about 38% of low to moderate income older adults who are forgoing some type of healthcare because of the stress and strain in their finances. Then what we know is you have a compounding impact, right? If you don't take care of a health need, because you can't. Because you absolutely cannot afford it and you make that decision at the time, things don't get better on their own. Then it makes it more difficult to remain healthy. To be able to earn wages and take care of your financial health.

 

Frank:                    You have another, I know there's another category in the report that I think you call the high 50? Five fifty plus?

 

Lisa:                       That's right. High income 50 plus.

 

Frank:                    Is that segment also concerning? Or they're in better shape?

 

Lisa:                      They're in better shape, Frank. You're absolutely right that the high income 50 plus group reports less concern with their financial health and the report walks through various domains to really look at how adults who are 50 and older and you and I know that there are many segments when you think of the population 50 and older. It looks at how people are coping with financial health. How they're spending, how they're boring, how they're saving, and how they're planning. Even though high income 50 plus is a place where more people should be based on their efforts and want to be, there's still a percentage of people in the high income 50 plus, I think it's about 20% or 22% who will report that they're struggling. With some domains of their financial health. It shows you that there's a lot of struggle. A lot of struggle.

 

Frank:                    I know you touched upon it, but the thing that concerns me and concerns us all of course, is healthcare and medication and so what effect, maybe a little more detail than what you've gone over if you can, healthcare, medication, what effect has it had on this vulnerable group we're talking about?

 

Lisa:                       It really, for the vulnerable population, those as I always say who are either already in trouble or on the brink of trouble, the healthcare aspect is so important because there's a challenge around multiple factors. One is everything from when my finances are strained, and I'm living paycheck to paycheck, or source of income to the next source of income, it's everything from the ability to be able to afford a copay. The ability to afford medication and then when you think about surgeries or longer term therapies, the report outlines the story of a gentleman who when he was finally able to have the resources to have a surgery, which would be important, he then did not have the resources for the followup physical therapy. It's a snowball, a snowball effect and our well being is important. Again, it's why for me it is just so primary. It calls to the fore the need for all of us across a life span to have access to quality healthcare and services for total well being. Physical and emotional well being.

 

Frank:                    Lisa, we're going to take a real quick break and when we come back, I want to address the technology side of things and how that can play a role. Some of the plans AARP Foundation plans on helping and how we can all help. We're going to take a quick break just to recognize one of our sponsors.

 

Lisa:                      That's important Frank.

 

Frank:                   Yeah, exactly. Today's show of course is sponsored by Senior Care Authority. A senior placement and elder care consulting organization that has a national network of professionally trained and experienced local advisors to assist families in determining the right path for your loved ones. They'll discuss various long term care options whether it's in-home care, assisted living, memory care, nursing care or if you just need an advocate to get advice from a local senior care authority advisor can help you now. For a free, 30 minute consultation with an advisor, right in your area, contact Senior Care Authority at 888-809-1231 or you could go directly to their website at www.seniorcareauthority.com and you could find an advisor in your area.

 

Frank:                   Welcome back. We have with us again Lisa Marsh Ryerson who's the president of the AARP Foundation. So, Lisa, in talking about this report and study that's done, I wanted to talk about technology and maybe the role technology could play in any of this. Give us an overview, if you can and we can maybe then get into more specifics.

 

Lisa:                      Yeah, sure. I'm happy to give an overview Frank and then I'll always, as I always do appreciate your keen questions and insights as we're talking about technology. I think a very promising recommendation from the study or a finding from the study is that adults who are 50 and older who are low to moderate income really welcome the opportunities that financial tools and services will bring to their lives as they really struggle with some of those five key financial health challenges that they're experiencing when they're 50 and older. That's great news. To me Frank, that also is another myth that we can bust. For sure, those of us who are 50 and older are not digital natives. We understand that, but technology is the promise of scale. As we have coaching and syntech tools and financial services tools that are available using technology, we can reach more people than we can reach through direct service programs. Now, there are some differences. We will be working with and certainly do at AARP Foundation, with older adults, some of whom will still want a higher touch environment. Maybe those hybrid opportunities to have tools and resources online, but also human touch as well. The study also, Frank, was quite interesting in that it did show that Hispanics over index on use of online tools.

 

Frank:                   Interesting. That's great. That's interesting. Now when we talk about technology, we all know people are working longer. I don't think we need to look at a study on that, but people are working longer, but is that where technology could help? So maybe people who have been working in more of a physical type of work and maybe can't do it any more as they get older, to train them? Or are we talking about-

 

Lisa:                       Oh, absolutely. I mean, Frank, again you hit on it. One area is that the use of technology, which is growing any type of business or organization, whether that's for profit or a non-profit, provides an opportunity for us to either freshen skills or up-skill or add new skills for older adults so that they can work in a position that might be based on the use of technology. That is one area that you're talking about. But also technology itself allows us a platform and an opportunity to be sure that we're providing skills training and information to adults who are low to moderate income and are 50 plus. Using technology, so digital tools and services for learning is another area.

 

Frank:                   What role is AARP Foundation playing or plans on playing and I know the study just came out, but this was something I know you do all the time to provide, your organization to help provide some of the funding to provide this type of training or how does all that work and how can the public play a role in this to help in some way?

 

Lisa:                      Great set of questions there Frank. The study is, as I said earlier, so important to us because it gives us a broader base of insight so that we can be sure that when we're creating or advancing solutions because we create some on our own as you know Frank, at AARP Foundation and also source and find great solutions that are occurring in other organizations across sectors that we want to fuel so that they can scale. We're, as it relates to job training, the report confirmed, I guess what I would say is time to double down on our efforts here at AARP Foundation as it relates to successful programs that we already have, such as Back to Work 50 plus. Where we're working with community partners whether it's community college or workforce investment boards to provide learning and new skills development for people who are 50 and older in their communities. Training them for in demand jobs where they live. It has reinforced the study of the work that we're doing in what I would say a self employment or giver platform economy, so our opportunity in a program called Work for Yourself at 50 Plus, which helps older adults make wiser decisions about whether or not the gig economy or self employment is a smart choice in terms of income generation.

 

Lisa:                      Definitely the insights from the report are encouraging along those paths. But, as it relates to technology, we are also at AARP Foundation in the process, I think Frank you and I have talked before about the innovation culture that we have at AARP Foundation. We're pushing ourselves all of the time to use human-centered design principles and of course this report is squarely in that field. We want to deeply understand the need of the low to moderate income 50 plus to ensure that we are innovative in developing tools and services that are relevant and that actually solve the problem or meet the need. That means we'll further our work in I guess I would say financial services or syntech tools and applications that can provide some sort of online coaching and savings opportunities for example. It's a field that we're exploring. Or tools that can support those who are self employed to understand their financial journeys as well.

 

Frank:                   Yeah. Last time you were on the show, there was also a report done and it had to do with how many people are alone and loneliness and so how does that play into all of this as well? What we're talking about.

 

Lisa:                       I'm so glad that you're pulling our previous conversation through, those threads through to this conversation because, as you and I have discussed on other occasions, what we're aware of in our work and our commitment is that individuals live whole lives in communities and so as we're addressing the multiplicity of needs, we have to do that in a holistic approach, so we discussed on a previous podcast that low income older adults are at greater risk of being lonely and socially isolated. That is true for the 15 million low to moderate income older adults. They are at much greater risk of isolation, meaning lack of connections to friends and family, as importantly lack of connection to community tools and resources that will help them thrive and be financially resilient. I want us to remain really attuned to that risk. That's also where technology can help us and it's why, at AARP Foundation we are growing opportunities to engage voice automated technologies. For example, for older adults, whether or not that's in affordable senior housing or other ways that we could use leap frogging technologies to help older adults know about programs in their communities but also remain connected to resources that can help them meet their financial challenges.

 

Frank:                   We all have a lot of work ahead of us, don't we?

 

Lisa:                       We do and it's exciting as well.

 

Frank:                    It is.

 

Lisa:                       Isn't it Frank? I'm energized by it as much as I'm vigorous in being disturbed that we can't get this right. That older adults who have worked so hard and contributed to so many organizations and their communities and families should face these struggles. I know it's something that upsets both of us and the listeners and society, but the uplifting part is the advancements in technology and in knowledge can lead us to solutions that we can scale and sustain more affordably so that we can reach more people in need.

 

Frank:                   What about, how could people learn more about AARP Foundation, number one. How could they learn more about the report? Can they get access to it and also those that have the means, if they'd like to contribute and help in the efforts that AARP Foundation is doing. I know it's a long question, three part question, but what can we do to help?

 

Lisa:                       Oh, it's a great question, Frank. First of all, I would say, stay tuned for what I hope are more Frank and Lisa conversations on your wonderful podcast where we dig into these topics because it does provide such a great learning experience and I appreciate it. I would ask all listeners to head to our website, so www.aarpfoundation.org. AARP Foundation dot ORG. On the website, you'll have access to the full report so you'll be able to read the study which I think will be helpful and also, find information about tools and services that are available both in place or local communities across the nation and more broadly, nationwide as well. Also, on the website, as you nodded to Frank, we have so many people, older adults who are not struggling, who care deeply about their neighbors so I want to take a moment to thank all of our donors. It's very easy to donate and support our work online, on aarpfoundation.org. You also can learn how to connect with us because we need your great ideas too. A culture of innovation means that we are constantly and continually looking for fresh, new ideas that we can vet and test and learn.

 

Frank:                    Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

 

Lisa:                       Frank, it's always a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for all of your great work.

 

Frank:                    Thank you and I want to thank everybody else out there for joining us. Just be safe out there. We'll talk to you all soon.

 

Speaker 1:            You've been listening to Boomers Today with Frank Sampson. To learn more about today's show, visit boomerstodayradio.com and join us next time for another edition of Boomers Today.