Retirement Redefined: What Happens If You Outlive Your Savings?

August 24, 2011

Retirement Redefined

This is part of a Fronteras: Changing America Desk series on the recession & retirement, along with links to useful sites.


TUCSON, Ariz. -- ockquote>

Percentage of people 65 and older living below the poverty line in 2009: 8.9

Percentage of retirees age 65 and older who got 90 percent or more of their retirement income from Social Security in 2008: 34

Kim Bingham is a social worker at Casa de la Luz Hospice in Tucson.

“We are still functioning on a plan that was meant for people with life expectancies much younger," she said.

Bingham sees it at the hospice every day: Older people living longer than they were prepared for. And it’s not a problem for the future.

Between 2000 and 2010, the population of seniors 85 and older exploded by 52 percent in Pima County. When you tally those 65 and over, they collectively make up nearly one-fifth of the county.

“And it is eventually going to catch up with us. We’re in this crunch right now," Bingham said.

Arizona and some other states do offer long-term care when resources have run out, but its offerings are very limited. It's really an option of last resort.

Many people don’t even know about these programs. In Arizona, it’s known as the Arizona Long Term Care System.

"You know, I talked to a lady not too long ago who said she only had $47 in her savings account. It’s just dire," Bingham said. "The finances for some people are just extremely limited. And so you can imagine, it puts a burden, and at this time when it's already the end of life. It's one of the most difficult times in anyone's entire history.”

And the problems that come with old age haven’t gone away. In Pima County, 71 percent of seniors report at least one chronic condition – Alzheimer's Disease, hip fractures, arthritis, vision problems, heart disease.

Deborah Adams is a director at the Pima Council on Aging. She said it's an entirely new demographic, and it’s one that many communities are not addressing. She counts off on both hands what's needed.

"Looking at transportation, looking at housing, looking at recreational opportunities; looking at healthcare,” Adams said. “Looking at how communities are laid out so there’s easy access to medical facilities, pharmacies, to grocery stores.”

Back at his apartment, Litwak worries it’s already catching up to him.

"Older people see everything that happens through fear and anxiety,” Litwak said. “Because they don’t know if they’re going to go to heaven, if there is a heaven. So that makes them frightened.”

But Litwak said growing old and poor scares him even more.