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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