PHOENIX (AP) – Lenora Angie never imagined she’d have to go back to work at age 76.
With an ailing husband and the highest prices she can remember for everything from milk to gas, the retired school lunch worker in Cleveland, Ohio, now works part-time as a salesperson at a local department store to pay for food and medicine.
“The holidays are going to be tough, and it’s not just for seniors,” said Angie, who said she’s happy to get an extra 10 hours a week during the busy shopping season. “Luckily, my daughter-in-law did all the cooking for Thanksgiving and I brought a few dishes. But the Christmas celebration will definitely be more modest.”
Inflationary pressures may be starting to ease, but higher prices will still hurt older people through most of 2022, with more people like Angie saying their finances are in worse shape than they were a year ago. In November, consumer inflation increased by 7.1% compared to the same period last year.
While people of all ages struggle, the over-65s often have an even harder time because they typically live on a fixed income, unable to supplement their wages with overtime or bonuses.
The problem will become more widespread in the coming years as more baby boomers join the ranks of retirees, starting to turn 65 in 2011. In 2050, the U.S. population age 65 and older will be 83.9 million, nearly double the number in 2012 (43.1 million), according to the Census Bureau.
Angie receives less than $1,000 a month from the school district and her small pension from Social Security. She said her husband earns a little more.
Angie was among the contributors to the AARP report released last month, which showed that more than a third of people aged 65 and over described their financial situation at mid-year as worse than 12 months earlier. That’s a huge jump from the 13% of adults 65 and older who said the same thing in January.
The seniors were among 4,817 adults age 30 and older who participated in a semiannual survey conducted in July in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by NORC, an independent social research organization at the University of Chicago, on behalf of AARP. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.57%.
While most people of all age groups described difficult financial struggles this year, a breakdown by age showed that older people were much more pessimistic about their own economic future. While almost half of adults aged 30-49 said they thought their finances would improve within 12 months, just over a quarter of those aged 50 and over thought the same.
Financial insecurity caused by inflation this year has forced many seniors to make difficult decisions, said Dana Kennedy, director of AARP Arizona.
“Many people are living on a fixed income and are reducing their pension or even delaying retirement,” Kennedy said.
Pollster Frank Hiller, 62, of Easthampton, New Jersey, said high prices have made him rethink when he should retire and whether he and his wife will stay in their four-bedroom home in retirement.
“I used to think it would be 65, but now I’m thinking 67,” said Hiller, who works as an auto mechanic at a car dealership. “And we thought we’d stay in our house, but we’ll probably downsize. It’s a lot of space and costs a lot to keep track of.”
While the Hillers haven’t had to make drastic changes to keep up with inflation, they’ve re-examined their Internet and cable TV package, wondering if they should finally ditch the Internet phone line.
Kennedy, of AARP Arizona, said spiraling home prices in her state have pushed many seniors out of the rental market.
Casey Dungan, 73, said she feels lucky to be in subsidized housing for adults in Phoenix with her 11-year-old dachshund mix, Sandy, after falling into homelessness earlier this year.
However, the cost of food and other bills means her entire Social Security check is gone by the end of the month.
“I don’t have money to go to the show or anything,” said Dungan, a widow who does her own shopping and cooking, though she sometimes uses a rollator.
He said he looks forward to next month, when millions of Social Security recipients will receive an 8.7% increase in their benefits, partially offset by rising costs.
The average recipient will receive more than $140 a month in the largest cost-of-living adjustment in more than 40 years. About 70 million people, including retirees, the disabled, and children, receive Social Security benefits.
“I’m hoping it will help me buy more groceries, especially with inflation the way it is,” said Dungan, who relies on a monthly box of food for seniors through a federal program to get enough to eat.
Phoenix resident Lois Nyman, who just turned 85, said she’s lucky to have her health and be able to supplement her Social Security payments by working part-time as an adjunct instructor at a community college coordinating clinical experiences for future nurses at local hospitals.
Still, she said inflation has made things a little tighter this year, meaning she and her neighbor go out to dinner once a month instead of every week.
“For Thanksgiving, I just bought a couple of turkey legs instead of a whole turkey,” said Nyman, who lives with her son in his 60s. “I can’t believe what they cost at the grocery store now. I try to go when things are on sale at the same prices as a year ago.”
This report was written by the Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations, and John A. Supported by a journalism fellowship from the Hartford Foundation.