Millions of seniors living below poverty line are never counted
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Millions of seniors living below poverty line are never counted

Sacramento : CA : USA | Jul 16, 2010 at 12:25 PM PDT
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Media often covers only a few of the local 9.7% of seniors officially living in poverty. Officially, the United States Census Bureau lists how many seniors officially live in poverty nationally. What's not covered in local media so much is the much wider figure, the Sacramento seniors who confront the same predicament financially. Usually, it's the citizen journalism media that speaks out the most about seniors falling through the cracks when it comes to affording basic food, shelter, and clothing.

How many Sacramento seniors even get to write letters to the media or are interviewed, let alone written about when their financial situation is dire? Most want privacy, of course. A few need to speak out to the media, to let others know that they earn more than the U.S. Census Bureau's poverty threshold of $13,014 for a two-adult household that the government relies on the determine eligibility for assistance programs, that in Sacramento are on the verge of being cut back at any moment, without warning, and almost at the whim of legislators. Or at least that's the way some people feel.

The problem is that the media cannot speak for all or even for a few. All the media can do with culture is to observe it, report the facts, and find out whether the fact-checking source is validated, and if so, by what other credible source. It becomes a maize of research.

The government says that you can't earn more than $14,570, a figure the government uses to determine eligibility for a number of assistance programs. If you look at Sacramento guidelines, how many are living in official poverty? And how many are living in poverty, but are not official? If the government says only 9.7% of Americans age 65 and better officially live in poverty, it can't be true because that figure has remained at 9.7% for the past decade. It doesn't consider the economic situation of the last few years.

If the past recession has brought the poverty level in the USA to above 13% for all ages, why do the media constantly quote a figure since the year 2000 of 9.7% poverty for those age 65 and beyond? It makes the figures look as if those who are not able to work because of physical, mental, or age-discrimination reasons compete less for income with those who are younger than age 65. Is the media correctly reporting how many older people live in poverty, but can't be counted officially or qualify for assistance, should they want it?

The media is not writing about people living on the edge in Sacramento, not as much as it might be helping. Living on the edge means you don't qualify for food stamps or other assistance programs because either you earn too much, a spouse earns too much, or your social security check or your spouse's retirement benefits social security check is too high (even though perhaps you earned that money yourself by working for the past 45 years).

And there are other reasons you fall through the cracks in Sacramento and are not brought to the attention of the media because you don't speak out to the media. Let's say you live without insurance, without basic utilities such as air conditioning. Or your air conditioner broke and your dishwasher is not working, so you live without it and have lived without it for years. Either you or your spouse can't afford to have basic utilities fixed.

Maybe you show up at Sacramento food kitchens or for the weekday $2 lunch at some senior centers. See the website, Sacramento Food Closet/Bank Emergency Free Food.

Local media needs to cover the difference between official statistics and Sacramento's hard reality

Can you believe the Census Bureau? Not totally because its poverty threshold is not today's reality of what a senior citizen needs to survive--to afford food, shelter, clothing and medical/dental care. So why do local and national media usually get their figures from the Census Bureau? If they don't, they'd have to rely on interviews, which are time-consuming to find. You need a more reliable source of facts if you're in the media covering culture.

The media can no longer accurately quote the federal poverty level as a measurement of reality. And where else can you go for facts except the familiar wells--the government statistics? The measuring stick isn't accurate any longer. The formula for measuring poverty is 40 years old and counting. Where can the media find today's more accurate figures?

Statistics is not reality. That's what the local and national media have not really learned until now. How did the measuring stick of poverty get quoted as valid in the first place?

Back in the 1960s, you have Social Security Administration economists taking the cost of a very basic, simple survival diet and multiplying that 1960s cost by three. That answer actually created the basis for future poverty benchmarks, according to the March/April 2010 issue of AARP magazine's article, "Living on the Edge," by award-winning journalist, Barry Yeoman. Also see the July 1, 2010 Charleston Daily Mail article, Ah, government will define poverty up - Robert Samuelson. The media has no conclusive definition of poverty.

And the media also points out that its source of facts is a single statistic, the federal poverty line. Molly Orshansky, an analyst at the Social Security Administration, designed it in the early 1960s, and the federal poverty line became part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, according to Robert Samuelson's article.

Low income matters, though how low is unclear, according to Robert Samuelson's article. The government may not be so sure at this time, either. In 2008, the poverty threshold was $21,834 for a four-member family with two children under 18.

The problem is if you're in need of assistance and can't get it, whether it's foods stamps or a caregiver to come into your house to help a spouse with dementia, if the two social security retirement checks that you and your spouse live on is above the level of poverty you need to get food stamps, you won't get assistance. You have fallen through the cracks.

The next step? The twilight zone of going from one media source to another to get local or national attention. However the last thing most seniors want is notoriety in the news or attention from the media, because publicity can either draw people coming out of the woodwork to help as well as those who want to hate right in your face. Seniors hear at gatherings that the new formula is 'propaganda' that will redistribute more of people's income.

The fact is the media is calling poverty 'messy.' The media is pointing to culture as a measure of progress. How can the media rely on a primary source when the primary source hasn't changed in decades? The primary source is not a 'bible' of tradition that doesn't change its statistics with the times. The primary source for the media needs to keep up with the changing times. It's statistics, not moral law, although moral law based on statistics can allow plenty of people to fall through the cracks.

The poverty formula as used in the media today is still based on 1955 food buying patterns. Back then, you would spend a third of your income on food. Today, you know how much health care costs and how high your rent or mortgage rises.

If you're in the media, there's an alternative. You could solve the problem of finding an answer by looking at statistics given by the National Academy of Sciences. At least the Academy looks at alternative poverty measures. By the Academy's formula, 18.7 percent of seniors live in poverty, according to the March/April 2010 AARP magazine article by Barry Yeoman.

That's more than 7 million people. Think this really solves the problem? Of course not. If you're in the media studying culture, you know that the government is reducing the number of people on federal assistance. The poverty formula won't change, for now at least.

The government doesn't want media to write articles that lead to increasing the number of people who live in poverty. But if that's you, and you have fallen through the cracks, your voice of confidence and resilience gives you the chance to tell your story in the media. Will your purpose be to change the poverty line? Or to get in-home help for your spouse with dementia? You could keep asking, "What's the alternative?"

Are you looking for solutions in Sacramento as more senior citizens become newly homeless? How about planting more community vegetable gardens at senior center sites and at homeless shelter sites, at public parks, or where meals to seniors are served? Sacramento is faced with an increasing problem of senior citizens who are either newly or chronically homeless.

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more seniors are being seen by local services as newly homeless. Should more raw food services and gleaning groups work with newly homeless senior citizens?

See the April 6, 2010 Sacramento Bee article, Study warns more senior citizens will become homeless. But can a raw food diet help homeless seniors? If a raw food diet can help to reverse in some people type 2 diabetes, can such a diet tried for a month to see whether it is working for a specific individual for other reasons such as pre-dementia?

Often dementia symptoms are similar to what's seen in nutritional deficiencies where seniors are not absorbing the nutrients due to lack of digestive enzymes that may occur with age. What can Sacramento do about the increasing number of senior citizens becoming homeless? One solution, from a nutrition-oriented point of view is to engage homeless seniors in planting and caring for vegetables and fruits in local urban community gardens.

Put these gardens on the sites of senior centers and homeless shelters. They work at the sites of some elementary schools. Raw food diets and classes in making food without cooking should be available to homeless seniors. They need to feel that they are participating while waiting.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness projects that if current homeless trends remain true, the nation's population of senior homeless will increase by 33 percent in a decade's time – and by 50 percent in 2050. groups, according to an April, 2010 report. How does homeless affect senior citizens in Sacramento on fixed incomes? See the April 1, 2010 article from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, "National Alliance to End Homelessness Releases Report on Elderly Homelessness."

You have several groups of homeless older people. The chronically homeless may have dementia or other mental illnesses. In Sacramento, there's the problem of the homeless growing old on the sidewalks and under bridges, in their cars, or at homeless shelters. Most of the older adults--late sixties or 70's show up at day programs, but not at the homeless shelters where beds are provided.

You have chronically homeless struggling with addiction and/or mental illness growing old as they walk the streets or sleep under bridges or in doorways of storefronts and lots. Some come in to homeless shelters during the daytime for meals. But Sacramento is seeing an increase of undernourished or malnourished older people who have lost jobs and have been priced out of rentals.

Homelessness after age 60 or 70 might be due to age discrimination at work, dementia, or physical disabilities. But what about the able-bodied older people who find themselves priced out of rentals? Some have lost homes due to foreclosure in the local area. Some people have outlived their savings.

As people grow more frail, their ability to find ways to make money diminishes. Not all seniors are able to find jobs at home online teaching, writing, entering data, or telemarketing. If they're homeless, there's little chance they're online working from their cars.

Many don't have cars, use public transportation when they can afford it, and don't drive. Because of money problems, the free bus pass that used to go to persons over age 75 has been taken away. Those over age 75 no longer can ride Sacramento transit free. Not many homeless seniors can afford $50 monthly bus/light rail passes.

Here's where nutrition changes might help. Instead of having a sense of vulnerability, senior centers serving lunches to older adults might try an experiment of serving a raw foods diet to seniors who want to try such a diet. How about 30 days on raw foods to see whether the health of aging Boomers might be improved?

If health is improved, might homelessness at least for those who are not severely mentally ill or actively using drugs, then be the next area to conquer? How about turning local seniors onto nutrition, for example, trying a 50% raw foods diet for 30 days to see whether there's improvement in health and attitude?

A number of senior citizens in Sacramento are living close to the poverty line. You have a whole new group of people who have been renters all their lives. Now that they are older and more vulnerable, they are suddenly starting to become homeless in Sacramento. Most blame their homelessness in old age on the high rental prices, even for some assisted living apartments.

Some senior apartment complexes that serve meals charge more than $3,500 monthly for a small apartment and two or three meals daily. Some look luxurious with recreation rooms, but the activities are similar, and the food served at some Sacramento assisted living complexes mostly consists of cooked food such as meats, mashed potatoes, a green vegetable or mixed vegetables and a sugary dessert, caffeinated beverages, or pasta.

You won't find many assisted living apartment complexes that serve food giving seniors a raw foods diet, a no-salt added diet, or sugar-free food without artificial sweeteners. Food may be in some places close to what skilled nursing home food is like, which is similar to hospital food. It's overcooked when it comes to vegetables, and doesn't rely on raw foods or smoothies made (for those who can't chew) from real fruit instead of smoothie mixes full of processed foods.

Some people just do better on a raw foods diet to reverse a lot of health issues due in the first place to poor absorption of nutrients. You can see how unlikely a raw foods diet is going to happen to homeless or near homeless senior citizens that are becoming homeless now.

Sacramento is seeing people becoming homeless as they turn age 70 or in their late 60s. The homeless shelters are seeing this happen currently, according to the Sacramento Bee article. When a person in his or her sixties suddenly becomes homeless, usually it's due to job loss. The job loss can be due to the economy or due to health problems.

In Sacramento, the state budgets aren't able to provide the right type of services that suddenly homeless senior citizens need. Sure, they can get a low-cost hot lunch at one of the city's senior centers serving food, but the type of cooked food available has to be on a budget. You know they're not getting pomegranates, papayas, green vegetable juices from spinach and celery, carrot juices and whole, raw vegetables.

If low-income seniors eating lunch at a senior center are served raw shredded cabbage, which is low-cost and healthy, they are lucky. But if the raw cabbage is drenched in fatty mayonnaise, sugar, and unhealthy oils, maybe it's not that healthy as if it were served with lemon juice and a few spices and herbs. But not all seniors can afford even the two dollar lunches served at some centers.

State budgets are strapped. So the older people that are newly homeless may fall through the cracks when it comes to services. Newly homeless seniors may not be able to afford medications or naturopathic supplements and whole foods. They may not be able to travel to community gardens to plant their own food because of frailty. Some may be developing dementia or nutrition deficiencies that mimic dementia because their vitamins and minerals are not being absorbed.

Others may have addiction and mental health issues. In Sacramento, there's Maryhouse, a day program for homeless women. They have, according to the Sacramento Bee article, some women in their 80s coming in and out at times. How do homeless women in their 80s deal with mental illness in Sacramento?

What happens to homeless older women who no longer can care for themselves? When you don't fall under the umbrella of the various Sacramento County services, who else helps you? If a homeless shelter provides a day program, where do you go at night?

You might check out the site of Sacramento's Housing and Urban Development assessment. Or check out the article, Mayor starts fundraising drive for homeless families - Sacramento. See the article, $213,769,836 in Homeless Grants Throughout California. The article is about funding to support 751 existing housing and service programs.

How would homeless grants help homeless seniors in Sacramento? The problem with the Housing and Urban Development homelessness assessment revealed that only 2.8 percent of the entire country's homeless shelter population was age 62 or older.

In Sacramento, the rising homeless rate in the Baby Boomer generation is based on predictions that as rent creeps higher locally, more people will be priced out. You have to take into consideration that nationally the aging population is expected to make up more than 1/4 of the American population by 2020, from where it is today at a mere 12.6%, according to researchers.

So if you figure the older adults will make up more than a quarter of the entire USA population by 2020 – up from 12.6 percent now, forecasters predict a related growth in homeless seniors. Is there anything you can do personally to slow the growth of homeless seniors right here in Sacramento?

Think of how the rising cost of living and the fixed income of seniors are facing one another now and in a decade. Will you age into homelessness? Will Sacramento have affordable housing for seniors that is safe? As more Baby Boomers age, they are facing the many seniors already on waiting lists for various federal housing projects and programs.

Perhaps one solution might be to look at the nutrition of senior citizens. If they ate healthier diets, perhaps they'd age more slowly or they would be better able to absorb nutrients with a different diet, perhaps trying a raw foods diet for 30 days to see whether they feel healthier. It's one small step from the point of view of nutrition, but how many seniors are trying a raw foods diet or healthier foods for their individual physiques?

And the biggest question, can they afford the nutrients needed? Should more seniors, including the newly homeless, participate in urban community vegetable and fruit gardens while waiting for a place to live? And how will the heavy air pollution in Sacramento cause more health problems of older adults (and younger people)?

As far as Sacramento, how will the air pollution cause health problems with lung inflammation, heart disease, and other health problems that lead to more rapid aging problems? Check out the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research articles, Outdoor Air Pollution and Uncontrolled Asthma in the San Joaquin Valley, California (Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health).

The San Joaquin Valley in California ranks among the worst in the USA in terms of air quality, and its residents report some of the highest rates of asthma symptoms and asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations in California. Also check out the website of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research for the following articles, Nearly 2.5 Million Nonelderly California Women Uninsured at Some Time During 2007, New Poll Shows California Voters 40 and Older Largely Unprepared for Costs of Long-Term Care Services, and How Would Health Care Reform Impact California Senior Citizens?

All these problems waiting to be solved are in the hands of the media that observes culture. But the media only reports news and features or editorializes. It can observe and complain, look for valid primary sources, and speak out. Unfortunately, it does not have the power to bring about change, to take action for example, submitting a bill to the legislature.

That's in the hands of the government. And what rights do people have? It's a circle that recycles itself. The people have a voice to speak out, if the media listens. When people fall through the cracks, they tell the media that they don't qualify for food stamps.

And when millions of older Americans don't have enough money to pay for food, and the government won't count them as poor, because the government is reducing the number of people on the poverty list, the media's job is to write about how this happened and what's being done? At the moment what's being done is research by academia. But who is listening from the 'inside' with the power to vote?

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Novel by Anne Hart
Is radical liberalism or extreme conservatism a character disorder, mental disease, or publicity campaign?A novel
AnneHart is based in Sacramento, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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