February 04, 2016

Senior Nomads: A few of the People who Need Expanded Social Security Benefits the Most

The Los Angeles Times recently profiled senior nomads – “a subculture of wandering retirement-age couples” who travel in recreational vehicles from one part-time job to another. If anyone needs expanded Social Security benefits, it is these folks. Unlike other, wealthier older couples, these seniors drive around the country out of necessity, constantly on the lookout for their next temporary paying gig.

The Times reports that eight in 10 Americans say they will work well into their 60s or skip retirement entirely. Nearly one-third of U.S. heads of households ages 55 and older have no pension or retirement savings. These are some of those people.

Senior nomads are like many who rely on Social Security to get the bare minimum that they need to survive. Almost two-thirds (64.6 percent) of elderly beneficiaries relied on Social Security for half or more of their income in 2012. The program lifted 22.1 million Americans out of poverty in 2013.

Suffering through daily aches and pains like leg cramps and arthritis, these seniors in RVs, such as Dolores Westfall, may have reached their late 70’s, but they cannot afford to retire. Dolores’ journey has taken her to 33 states so far.

As the stories illustrate, credit limit increases are sometimes the only thing that provide financial breathing room. Unexpected repairs to the RVs or dental work are poignantly described as “gut punches.”

One couple, 59-year-old Denise Fuller and her 61-year-old husband Mark, have resorted to cleaning bathrooms at a Wisconsin campground.

The Great Recession hit older Americans hard. Of the 4.7 million home foreclosures from 2007 to 2011, one-third, or 1.5 million, involved people ages 50 and older. Older single women are particularly vulnerable: They make less than male workers, and those that take time off to have children often miss chances for seniority and pay raises.

These stories don’t just tug at your heartstrings. They also make the case better than anyone else could for expanding earned Social Security benefits and protecting defined benefit pension plans.

Since half of all workers have no employer-backed retirement plans, expanded Social Security for these seniors could be the only thing keeping them from abject poverty and complete homelessness.

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