By Sonja Hanson Anderson
When I was first asked to share my views on aging and poverty, I immediately thought of the financial side of the issue. As an MSW/PhD student and an associate instructor at the University of Utah, I frequently lecture on human, physical, and financial capital. Students learn about the importance of education, financial planning, and saving for retirement. When students calculate how much they will need to save for retirement, they are often surprised by how important it is to start preparing now. The research I have conducted as a student for policy and social justice classes has reaffirmed my belief in educating others about the realities of classism and ageism.
I also work with low-income retirees as the owner and administrator of a home health agency that provides personal care services for older adults. Like my students, a large percentage of my clients have found they are unprepared for retirement. For an individual 65 years and older in a one-person family unit, the 2010 weighted average poverty threshold was $10,458 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). In June 2010, the average monthly retirement benefit from Social Security was $1,170, or $14,040 a year. Moreover, Social Security is the main source of cash income for 55% of older beneficiaries (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2010). These statistics portray that many older adults are living very close to the poverty level.
Upon further reflection on poverty and older adults, I thought more about emotional capital and the importance of subjective well-being. During my practicum in a hospital’s behavioral medical unit, I worked with clients who were distraught over their finances. Yet, as many clients have shown me, there is much more to life than money. As expressed by Eric Butterworth, “Prosperity is a way of living and thinking, and not just money or things. Poverty is a way of living and thinking, and not just a lack of money or things.”
I believe that it is as important to build a life of rich memories and lasting relationships as to build a portfolio of stocks and bonds. A dear friend who epitomizes happiness and friendship reminds me of that. At age 83, he is “protired.” Despite heartaches and health problems, he finds fulfillment through community work. He accepts donated vehicles, has the needed repairs done, and then donates them to low-income individuals so they may have transportation. His work has improved the quality of life for over 1,300 families in our community.
He has shown me that it is not money that makes communities rich, but rather the involvement of their citizens. Community members, across all ages, can contribute to their communities both for its benefit and their own self-fulfillment. I believe that at any age we should be ready and willing to make the world a better place. Although poverty among older adults is a real and serious issue, I propose that emotional capital should be included in discussions of poverty.
Sonja Hanson Anderson is an MSW/PhD student and associate instructor at the University of Utah. She has a master’s degree in Family Ecology and a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Consumer and Community Studies. She is also certified through the National Council on Family Relations as a Family Life Educator.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2010, August 13). Policy basics: Top ten facts about Social Security on the program’s 57th anniversary. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3261
U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Poverty thresholds by size of family and number of children. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/index.html
 Eric Butterworth was a theologian, philosopher, lecturer, and author. He was a Senior Minister at The Unity Center of NYC from 1961 to 2003.