Hopeful, Open, in Love with Life – and Old
This Week in Elder News: 19 July 2008

Elders and Inflation

category_bug_politics.gif Surely you saw the news yesterday: one measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 1.1 percent in June – twice the rate of May for a total of 5 percent over the past 12 months and the largest year-to-year jump since 1991.

Meanwhile, consumer spending has stagnated and no wonder. Food prices, according to the federal government, rose .8 percent in June (up 6.1 percent in 12 months) with a 2.8 percent increase for fruits and vegetables and a 1.6 percent rise for dairy. Gasoline passed the $4 mark a few weeks ago, with a gallon of regular going for more than $5 in rural areas where it costs more to truck it to the local pumps.

In my neck of the woods, Portland, Maine, a pint of local strawberries at the farmers market is going for $6 this year compared with $4 last year (33 percent). I just signed the contract locking in the price for my winter-season heating fuel: up more than 45 percent in one year - and that’s with the .02 cents-per-gallon elder discount, which will save me all of $15 over the next 12 months.

I'm sure you have your own stories of giant leaps in prices of essentials. National CPI averages don’t come close to telling the economic story for those of us in the real world despite McCain campaign economic adviser and former senator, Phil Gramm, says about us being a nation of whiners.

Elders are being hit hard. Throughout the country, Meals on Wheels programs are cutting back deliveries to once a week, frozen meals instead of hot, and the number of visits from home health care aides is being cut too.

“…Bill Harman, 77, relies on a home aide to take care of his wife, Evelyn, who is 85 and has Alzheimer’s disease. Mr. Harman has had to use a wheelchair since 2000 because of hip problems…”

For her work with the Harmans, health aide Katie Clark earns $9 an hour and is not reimbursed for the gas she uses to drive the 700 miles over a week to visit them twice a day. Now, with the surge in gas prices, Ms. Clark doesn’t know how much longer she can afford the travel.

“If she leaves, Mr. Harman said, he could not care for his wife…Without an aide, he said, he would have to put his wife in a nursing home, and probably need to live in one himself.”

The New York Times, 5 July 2008

Even elders who do not need home care, who are independent, are cutting back on visits to friends and family, community events and senior centers.

“[Betty Lish, 62,] has turned off her phone service and internet connection. She doesn’t use her air conditioning and keeps all appliances unplugged whenever possible. She relies on food stamps for groceries.

“’I can’t cut back any more,' she said.

“After paying rent and utility bills, the amount she receives in Social Security payments leaves about $20 a month for gas…

“So Lish cannot afford gas to visit her children, several living about two hours away. She no longer communicates through email with a son living in Japan.”

Tulsa World, 12 July 2008
“Most senior citizens are on a fixed income and can barely afford to put gas in their car. And no gas means many of them are shut in.

“Some are complaining they can’t visit their friends and their friends can’t visit them so they sit at home alone.

“For many seniors, their set budget doesn’t include enough money for soaring electricity bills, gasoline that’s nearly $4 a gallon and paying double for the same bag of groceries they used to buy.”

myfoxhouston.com, 2 July 2008

The July/August AARP Bulletin published a poll showing some of the ways elders are coping with rising food prices:

Using coupons at grocery stores: 57%
Buying generic brands of groceries: 56%
Starting a vegetable garden: 27%
Shopping less frequently: 47%
Eating more leftovers: 56%
Eating fewer meals: 18%
Eating out less: 54%

It’s that “eating fewer meals” that is alarming. And, undoubtedly, some elders are not filling prescriptions or taking smaller dosages of medications to stretch the time between refills.

The real-world price increase examples at the top of this story are likely closer to the truth of current inflation than the government's official CPI numbers. In a story yesterday at Huffington Post, Kevin Phillips quotes Charles S. Schwab & Company chief economist Liz Ann Sonders:

“‘Over the past 30 years, major changes have been made to the calculation of the CPI…

“If you eliminate those adjustments and calculate CPI as it would have been calculated in 1980, it would be nearly 12 percent today...No wonder clients constantly tell me they distrust government inflation data."

Phillips concludes:

“Maybe our presidential candidates should take a break from discussing how many troops to move from Iraq to Afghanistan or vice versa and start publicly discussing the extent to which a fundamental mismanagement of the U.S. economy rests on a framework of what can bluntly be described as lies, damn lies and statistics.”

No kidding. And we shouldn’t have to wait for an election; Congress could be working on this. For elders, the issue of miscalculation of inflation statistics is a serious matter. The annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is based on the CPI.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, liloldme tells of a surprise encounter from Long, Long Ago and Far Away.]


Nobody above mentioned taking the bus as a cheap way to travel short distances. In Montreal, anyone 65 plus, gets a senior bus pass. (you go downtown with proof of age & get your photo taken..it costs $10, then you get the plastic bus pass which entitles you to 6 tickets for $6.50, rather than 6 for $12.50. If you live near a bus stop, you can grab the senior seat up front and go where you want to go! I'm sure there are discounts for longer trips. Bus service in Montreal is safe and secure. I have a car, but use the bus at least 2x a week for errands. You can even buy a folding bike for under $300 and take it on the bus. It folds up smaller than a stroller. I can never figure out why so many people my age refuse to get on a bus, as if it's a low class thing to do. As if the boogey man will strangle a senior on the bus. Try it once and see. Also, start looking for your clothes at used clothing stores. We have huge ones here, and everything is hung neatly. Good labels and good quality. Sure, you might have to go often to find the little gems you like, but, if you are retired, why not make a morning of it..take the bus, shop and save big $. I don't buy all my clothes used, but you can save so much. Shoes? I find ALDO shoes every now & then at this store and they are new. Winter coats- buy them in the summer. Food? Try eating less meat and more veggie.

I am still saving the same amount each month as I did working full time. Ronni, we will be visiting NYC in September, as my dh will be singing in a huge concert there. I hope you are thinking and planning to go back and live there.

Hopefully we are prepared for the worst. Hopefully each of us will do our part to help our neighbors who are not prepared.

You have only mentioned two politicians by name in this article, McCain and Graham. And that was for what reason? Neither had any bearing on the content of your essay.

During the Clinton administration I attended Graduate School of Banking at SMU. I am not an economist but in a course there, we were told to expect the economy to head toward recession within the next two years and that was without knowing who the next President would be and without knowing about the World Trade Center and impending war. No one person or legislataive branch drives the economy. It is a monster with a life of it's own.

Elders can remember the Carter administration. These tragic stories of devastation to elders were identical then. Food shortages, high prices, cutting utilities.

It is called cyclical. Look at a 300 year chart and see that what goes up, will come down and vice versa.

We are challenged as a Nation and we always find solutions to our problems. While lots of folks are pointing to the bad, many point toward the good that will happen when we pull together.

I am so silly, but I continue to have faith in the United States and the people that make it up -- including you my friend Ronni. This blog is a great service and you give us a good forum. We need to pay special attention to our neighbors and our poor who seek help are still much better off than those of any other nation.

Granny Annie...

I mentioned McCain to help identify Phil Gramm (is that who you mean by "Graham?" for readers who don't know who he is. And I mentioned Gramm's "whiners" quote as a reference to a recent example of some powerful people who are out of touch with the real world discussed in this story.

Quibble: Strawberry prices that increase from $4/pint to $6/pint have increased by 50%, not 33%. (Yes, had the price decreased from $6/pint to $4/pint that would have been a 33% decrease!)

The real problem is that all of the above hardships are just the tip of the iceberg. Even the optimists of last month are now predicting that things will be getting worse and that the economy does not look good.

Those of us who remember the Great Depression are shuddering. With bank failures occurring now it looks frighteningly similar to those bad old days.

The only saving grace is that FDIC (government insurance) will bail out the depositors up to $100,000 per account. That's great if you have an account, but not so great if your money is in stock in the bank. And I wonder how long it will take the government to come up with the money for all those depositors. The good old U. S. is a debtor nation.

I guess it's time to get out my recipe book for 101 ways to serve hamburger. ;).

Good thoughts on a difficult subject. I think if any of us thought this is as bad as it will get, maybe we'd think we could weather it out but when you have a president who still talks about how strong our economy is, a Congress who has been willing to help him send us into debt for the next who knows how long, and a major candidate whose adviser (who was a US Senator) says it's in our heads, that is what is enough to make blood pressure raise.

The thing is we may not be to the bottom and some people are so close to the edge that they won't survive further down. If more banks fail, how much can a government, already deeply in debt itself, really pick up? I could go on but it definitely is scary times economically and in many other ways.

I've become an expert on living cheap over the past decade. My motto is that if it isn't on sale, I don't need it. It works for me.

Thank you for setting me straight on how to spell Gramm. Sometimes I get carried away, as do we all. In all seriousness, what about the other stuff I said? It was supposed to be geared to the "real world". Don't you think the economy concerns are much greater than one party and/or one administration and that we all need to pitch in and help? I am certainly not an extreme liberal but neither am I an extreme conservative but I'm a total, rip-roaring 100% United States supporter. We all must be our brother's keeper and not just expect the government to do it, don't you think? I truly hope you aren't angry with me. It maybe sounded a little like you were angry with me.....

By the way, how did you post your response and have it sign posted by Granny Annie? Whew,that was strange.

I don't know how your name got substituted for mine, Granny Annie. Just a glitch, I guess. I fixed it.

I'm not angry, just at a loss as to how you can see what I wrote as a partisan political statement - unless any dissatisfaction with the administration and congressional economic policies of the past eight years is partisan. I'll admit that well, yes, I think Republicans are responsible for the current economic disaster, but that wasn't the point of this post, nor do I think I made it so.

Regarding Americans pulling together, no pulling together can do anything about oil/gas prices, food prices, tricked up inflation numbers and much more that has been transferring wealth from the middle and lower economic classes to the richest in a way not seen since the first gilded age.

Yes, economies move in cycles, but not to this extent and my real point today is that some elders are doing without essentials because of inflation that no one who has the power to effect is even talking about, let alone trying to figure out how to control it.

Thanks for your research on this topic, Ronni. Americans are not used to tightening the belt. It is going to be a difficult winter for many. I have noticed our bed & breakfast bookings are way down for this fall. No wonder, with gas prices still rising. Heating houses is what worries me. I plan to close our cottage for the winter because income from weekend guests will not cover propane costs. Often guests are wasteful, too. They go out, leaving the heat at 72. We keep the heat, ourselves, at 60 now. Our new guest room is well insulated, so it holds heat better. My health insurance just rose to $713 from $644. I already eat leftovers and buy discount food, when possible. But that is not really what I wanted to discuss. Help our neighbors someone wrote above. I would think that maxim should start with family. I have, however, noticed my adult kids do not feel any obligation to help me, like it is not part of their mindset, or even ask if I need help. They buy all the latest gadgets for their homes and children rather than put money aside. They are part of the new generation who make over $100,000/year. Those who have too much and those who just get by. Our country is divided. We need an inspirational leader who can produce positive change on numerous fronts.

It takes more time to untangle knots than to make them, and I fear that it will take much more than 8 years to disentangle the nation from the economic mess that the current administration has gotten us into. Of course, they are not entirely to blame, but much of the natural ebb and flow of the nation's economy has been severely disrupted by their policies and blunders.

The economy is like an enormous cargo ship that takes many miles to slow, turn around, and get going in the opposite direction. Even President Bush realizes this; just yesterday he said that, however he might want it to, the economy will not "change on a dime."

That means that, despite the best efforts of the most enlightened administration and Congress, the economy will be a long time righting itself. Some are even forecasting the worst recession since World War II.

All of us are going to have to be much smarter and more prudent with every dollar, particularly if those dollars are part of a fixed income.

But we must go much farther than that: Let's face it, those of us in the blogging community are generally much better off than many of our elderly citizens. There are many, many ways to reach out to those who are struggling to get by. Now is the time to think not only of ourselves, but of others who are impacted much more deeply by these economic woes.

I agree with what most comments, and Ronni said on this topic. What is fascinating is that yesterday on the stock market (which seems to define our country's economy) the price of oil dropped for the 5th consecutive day. It seems our sister citizens have wised up and the demand for gas keeps dropping also. If this continues, hopefully, maybe we will see a reflection in not only gas prices, but food prices(i am trying to be positive). It won't happen fast enough to repair the damage done, but there seems to be some hope.

As to the presidential candidates, I suggest you go to each of their websites and click on contact. Send them an email that it is time to act now. What will they do to help our country, especially elders and children.

Also, write your congress rep and senator. This blog has an enormous following, if each reader sent an email, imagine the power you represent and the response you would create. ElderPower......pass it on.

If our country had heeded some of the conservation measures and searches for alternative sources of energy proposed by President Carter back in the 1970's we might not be in the dire energy crunch we are in now.

Oldr n dirt: you're right - 50 percent. Math wasn't my subject - English was...

I am glad I got here late today (working all day kept me away). I know we are cutting back wherever possible, as are many people I know (not just elders). I do think that recession is cyclical and apparently inevitable, no matter who is in office. It seems we have not learned from history what to do to slow it down or stop it.

As if things are not bad enough, the local 6:00 news contained a clip of a 20-something young woman filling up at the gas station, making the following comment (bracketed statements being my own):

"They [who is that?] need to do something [and what would that be?] and get gas prices back down so people can go back to doing things the way they used to".

Someone needs to tell this young lady that high energy prices are here to stay. I'm no economist but I'd bet a good chunk of change that we will never again see $2 or even $3 gas on a regular basis.

There is real hardship in America, of that there can be no question. But there are also a certain number of the blissfully ignorant among us who don't yet realize or accept that we cannot ever "go home" again to the way things were. Tough times and tough decisions are here to stay.

For me it means retirement is on indefinite hold. Others who retired too early may have to return to the work force (read AARP's newsletter this month). I'd love to kick back and relax as I am tired!! But I like to eat and I also have good health insurance which gets very uncertain when I retire (read the news about GM this week if you think your retiree coverage is safe).

For the young lady on the news, well, perhaps she can only take 5 vacations this year instead of 10. Life can't stay the way it used to be.

We all could send this article to our congress persons too.


Alexandra, your post reminded me of something I went through during my parents' last years. They didn't need any financial help, but I could have been far more helpful than I was--visited more, just "been there" for them. You're right - the idea that *they* needed *my* help was one that wasn't part of my mindset. It's hard to see something you don't expect to see (except in hindsight!)
I regret it now, but I also wish they would have asked me for help or told me they needed it. They must have wondered, like you do, why I couldn't see it myself - but the simple fact is that, even in my 40s, I couldn't.

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