Survey: Retirees in Pa. not well off

Nearly half have less than $50,000

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In Pennsylvania, 46 percent of retirees have a net worth of less than $50,000 and 30 percent earn less than half of their pre-retirement income, according to survey partly funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

The Elder Pennsylvanian Survey conducted by Widener University in Chester, in southeastern Pennsylvania, found that the state's residents were hit hard by the Great Recession.

For instance, 70 percent of those surveyed were worried about outliving their retirement savings, while only 50 percent had that fear in 2007.

Today, 68 percent worry about spending all their money on health care before age 75, compared with 2007, when that was a fear for 57 percent.

Many elders living on pensions and Social Security in a world of rising expenses have been forced to rely on charity and social service agencies for basic needs such as food.

According to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, more than 53,000 people age 60 and older received groceries from one of the food stations in the 11-county service area in the first five months of this year compared to 49,000 the first five months of 2010.

"With fuel, food and medicine costs rising, the seniors we serve on fixed incomes can't keep up," said Joyce Rothermel, CEO of the food bank, which is headquartered in Duquesne. "We participated in Feeding America's 2010 Hunger Study, which showed that 28 percent of our seniors reported having to choose between food and medicine."

She added that seniors who live in constant worry of not having enough food generally have poorer health and spend more time in the hospital.

That observation was consistent with the findings in the Widener study.

Eric Brucker, a professor of economics at Widener University who led the research, said 80 percent of those surveyed had at least one chronic disease, such as diabetes, arthritis, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure, and that only 26 percent of retired respondents reported having long-term care insurance.

The study, conducted in March, polled 750 randomly selected Pennsylvanians born before 1964, the last birth year of the baby boomers.

The survey was structured so that half of those polled indicated they were retired.

"Generally, the picture for elders in this state is not very bright," Mr. Brucker said.

Pennsylvania has one of the nation's highest number residents over age 65.

According to the 2010 Census, there were 1,959,307 residents here over age 65, representing 15.4 percent of the population.

This is the sixth and final Elder Pennsylvanian Survey.

"The good thing about this study is we started it before the recession, so we were able to make comparisons between 2007 to 2011," said Mr. Brucker.

One group of older Pennsylvanians did tend to fare better than their peers: public employees. This is mostly due to them having pensions.

Mr. Brucker said they also retired much sooner than people who work in the private sector.

While 14 percent of public employees said they planned to retire before age 62, only 5 percent of private sector employees planned to do so.

"I have little doubt after reviewing the results of this most recent study that Pennsylvania's elders are much more worried now than before the recession about retirement," Mr. Brucker said. "This fear only perpetuates our nation's economic problems. People want to work longer because of inadequate retirement savings, but unfortunately elder unemployment rates have increased. Furthermore, they aren't saving enough either because they can't afford to or they are uncertain about what to do with their money."


Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.


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