Michigan Elderly: Living on the Edge

By: Liam Martin Email
By: Liam Martin Email

John Mercer is fed up.

"I went bankrupt 'cause the banks ran me out of money."

Fed up with the system that he says landed him there. Eighty years old and retired, Mercer says his income simply hasn't kept up with his expenses. So his banks cut his credit lines in half.

"I don't know where I'm gonna be, 'cause I ran out of money, period. Everything I had I spent trying to live the last six months."

He's not alone. Seniors across the state -- and indeed the country -- are struggling to balance their checkbooks, as costs of living soar while their incomes remain flat.

The main culprits?

"Changes in retirement, increases in health-care costs or lack of affordable housing are pushing many of our seniors into deprivation," said Kate White, director of Elder Law of Michigan.

Advocacy groups for the elderly gathered Thursday at the state capitol to unveil new statistics highlighting precisely that problem. And their findings are shocking.

Here's the breakdown:

Avg. Yearly Expenses for Elder Person (with Mortgage)

Ingham County: $23,000
Jackson County: $25,000
Eaton County: $24,000

Median Income in Retirement

Michigan Men: $21,000
Michigan Women: $15,000

Average yearly expenses for an elderly individual living in Ingham, Eaton and Jackson counties all topped out above $20,000.

The median income for those same folks? $21,000 for men -- just $15,000 for women. In other words, they're breaking even.

"I will either come out ahead, or I will go below," Mercer said.

The problem? The state's already facing a $1.7 billion budget deficit for next year. But organizers say there are cheaper solutions for aiding seniors.

"I think lawmakers can use some of the economic stimulus funds that we have to expand affordable, low-income housing," White said.

Organizers say Michigan should also push more aggressively for federal funding and food assistance.

John Mercer just hopes the help comes sooner rather than later.

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  • by Kristen Location: washington DC on Jul 21, 2009 at 07:08 AM
    This is a very serious issue, like Alan said, and the problem does not just come from lack of planning, many women can not work the full amount of years it takes to acquire an adequate social security income, as they have to leave the workforce to care for children and/or parents or their spouses parents. Women are forced to juggle caregiving with employment, or quit their jobs, as there is little institutional support for caregiving in our employment sector. If anyone is genuinely interested in learning more about these issues, check out Wider Opportunities for Women's blog: http://wow-eesi.blogspot.com/
  • by Elderly Tsunami on Jul 17, 2009 at 12:14 AM
    The article indicates (with mortgage) there in lies the problem. People " if you are not independently wealthy you should NOT have positioned yourself to have a mortgage after you retire. As I said earlier as the Reformer if you think were in trouble now what is going to happen when all the boomers like myslf start feeding off the system like S.S. and medicare. The government for at least the last 20 or so years have mentioned BUT ignored the looming crisis. Thanks to fraud, greed, self indulgence, me first, materialistic mentality, driven by an arrogant political demagogue establishment we are in great shape just like our obese society. I can't feel bad for people that lived beyond their means. My brother was famous for saying you can't take it with you so you might as well spend it all now. I'm sure you know someone who has said " I don't care if I ever pay it off I'll be dead and let someone else worry about it" Well, here in lies the problem, people who take no responsibiliy.
  • by Alan Location: Lansing on Jul 16, 2009 at 05:12 PM
    This is a very very troubling article. We need to do somthing about this. I think maybe the best plan for now is probably raise there property taxes with an Ingham County Sheriff dept millage. That way when they get evicted by Eric Shirtzing and the predatory land bank, there stuff will be properly protected when the eviction crews set it all on the curb.
  • by Anonymous on Jul 16, 2009 at 03:16 PM
    If you do your story right, those expenses are the same for every michigan resident.
  • by Anonymous on Jul 16, 2009 at 03:15 PM
    Another special interest group taking our tax dollars.
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