Information on Seniors

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Older Adults and Hunger

Almost half (47%) of California's elderly are unable to afford even their most basic needs. Older adults (60+) make up 14.5% of Santa Clara County's population and 15% of them receive some form of public assistance from the county. Limited finances and fixed incomes mean that older adults are often faced with having to choose between food and rent, heat or medicine. Because food tends to be the most flexible cost (as opposed to more fixed costs such as rent and medication), it is what low-income seniors tend to cut back on first.

Because of the economic crisis, Second Harvest Food Bank and partner agencies report that older adults are turning more than ever to emergency food pantries and soup kitchens, even though these are not traditional places for them to receive nutritional resources. Many of these services do not have the resources to provide food for clients with diabetes or other dietary restrictions, common among the elderly.

No one agency can fully address hunger in the elderly; long-term solutions require collaboration between a variety of public and private services. Programs highlighted in this issue brief are:

  • Federal and State: The Food Stamp Program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP)
  • County: Santa Clara County Department of Aging and Adult Services
  • Non-profits: Second Harvest Food Bank and The Health Trust

Poverty is the number one risk factor for food insecurity in older adults. What other factors matter?

Many seniors live alone. More than 1/4 of Californians age 65+ lived alone in 2007.

Gender matters. Of seniors living alone, 55% of women, vs. 36% of men, are economically insecure. The median income for a senior living alone is $31,883 for men and just $20,762 for women.

Risk increases with age. Economic insecurity is more common among those 75+ than those ages 65-74.

Race matters. Older Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans are 3x more likely to be food insecure than non-Latino whites. Latino elders who lived alone or lived only with a spouse had the highest rates of economic insecurity, followed by African-Americans and Asians. Non-Latino whites had the lowest rates.

By 2020, the older adult population in Santa Clara County is expected to nearly double to 428,300 individuals, representing more than 1/5 of the county's population.

Renters are more at risk than homeowners. Older renters in Santa Clara County are almost 2x as likely to be economically insecure as those who own their homes and have paid off their mortgages.

Older adults living alone who are disabled and need long-term care are most at risk. Long-term care costs for one older adult can reach close to $45,000/yr, which alone is over 415% FPL.

The most vulnerable seniors are increasing their demographic share. Not only are Latinos more likely than non-Latino whites to be food insecure, they are also an increasingly large percentage of the senior population.

Transportation and Mobility. Many older adults have difficulty reaching services in their area. In a 2006-07 county-wide survey:

  • 25% of seniors had no reliable means of transportation for medical and other essential appointments.
  • 61% of older adults had difficulty in being able to shop for groceries.

Want to read more?

View the full Older Adults & Hunger PDF that was distributed at the 2010 Santa Clara County Hunger Issues Forum. Information specific to San Mateo County will be coming soon.