Must Read: Vermont seniors face high rates of financial insecurity

By:  Xander Landen; VT Digger

Seniors in Vermont face one of the highest rates of financial insecurity in the nation, according to a report released by UMass Boston this month. 

According to the report, 31% of seniors over the age of 65 who live alone, and 43% of elderly couples, don’t make enough income to meet the cost of basic needs, even though they are above the federal poverty line. 

The report, which analyzed federal data on the costs of housing, health care, transportation, food, and other goods in all 50 states found Vermont ranks first in the nation for the highest rate of economic insecurity for older couples, and third for singles.

Elderly Vermont couples who rent need an annual income of $43,000 and singles who rent need about $30,000 a year to meet basic living expenses, according to the report. 

Additional data couples in Vermont that own a home without a mortgage should have an annual income of about $41,000, which is 130% higher than the national average. 

Jan Mutchler, a professor of gerontology at UMass Boston and the author of the report, said the higher costs of health care and housing in Vermont are part of what makes it difficult for seniors to afford living in the state. 

On average, she found that with the cost of Medicare, supplemental health plans, co-payments, and drug costs, elderly Vermonters typically spend $586 a month on health care. The U.S. average is $395 per month.

Angela Smith-Dieng, the director of the State Unit on Aging at the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), said she was struck by how the study highlighted the seniors who are above the poverty line “but still in that gap where they’re struggling to meet the cost of living in our state.” 

 “Typically there’s so much focus on reducing poverty and when we only look at poverty levels, we’re missing a lot of folks who are living above that threshold but still struggling,” Smith-Dieng said. 

Greg Marchildon, the state director of the Vermont AARP, said many Vermonters live on Social Security benefits, which haven’t increased significantly at the federal level in several years, despite rising costs of living. 

Marchildon said that to address the problem, officials at the federal level should increase retirement benefits and help curb the rising costs of drug prices. 

At the state level, he says Vermont needs to invest more in affordable housing for seniors and should completely eliminate the tax on Social Security benefits.

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