By David Griffith
Fifty years ago, the life expectancy of a person living in the United States was approximately 70 years. At that same time, the average member of the workforce was retiring at the age of 65.

Today, thanks to great scientific and medical advancements over the past half-century, the average American is living to the age of 79. Yet, the average retirement age has moved in the opposite direction, with today’s workers retiring on average at the age of 63.

These trends mean that retirements today are lasting much longer than they once did. Maintaining financial security throughout these retirements comes with the challenge of stretching one’s resources to meet an array of financial needs as an individual ages.

“It’s a great thing that we’re living longer,” says Lynn Fields Harris, executive director of Center in the Park, a nationally accredited senior center in northwest Philadelphia. “It also means that our resources have to last a lot longer.”

Older adults living on a fixed income are often eligible for various benefits that can help reduce the costs of prescription medications, utilities, housing, food, and health care. But many of these benefits go unclaimed.
“I think there is a lack of information about how to access the resources that are out there and what someone needs to provide in order to access them,” continues Lynn. She believes that many older adults are distrustful of application processes in which they have to provide personal information in order to access what they think are limited benefits.

Lynn also says that some benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), still carry a stigma that prevent some eligible older adults from applying for them. Forgoing these benefits due to stigma only adds to the financial stress experienced by those who would qualify for support through these programs.

Many of the financial concerns related to retirement are even more pronounced for LGBT individuals.
In a 2014 research study by SAGE, 47% of LGBT older adults reported being very or extremely concerned that they would not be able to live the lives they want in retirement due to lack of money, as compared to 28% of non-LGBT older people. LGBT people were also more worried than their non-LGBT counterparts about outliving the money they had saved for retirement.

Becoming more familiar with financial resources and benefit programs, as well as giving greater focus to budgeting and spending habits, can alleviate some of the financial concerns often faced later in life.
“All of our resources, in one way or another, are limited,” says Lynn. “When we’re older and on a fixed income, it becomes more important to have a full picture of what our sources of income are, what our expenses are, and how to really be careful about our budgets.”

One resource that Lynn recommends is BenefitsCheckUp (benefitscheckup.org), a free program operated by the National Council on Aging. BenefitsCheckUp includes a database of over 2,500 local, state, and national benefits and allows consumers to search for benefits based on their location, age, and income.

Many senior centers, including Center in the Park, have center counselors who can help older adults to utilize BenefitsCheckUp for those who may not be comfortable doing this on their own.

Senior centers can also be a resource for older adults in need of support navigating financial issues related to housing. The Philadelphia Division of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) funds housing counseling agencies across Philadelphia, three of which offer specialty counseling services for seniors: The Philadelphia Senior Center (509 S. Broad St.), Center in the Park (5818 Germantown Ave), and the Center at Journey’s Way (403 Rector St.). Beyond helping seniors to locate housing, these counselors can connect older adults with utility assistance programs, energy conservation resources, budget counseling, and other benefit programs.

On Friday, June 15th, Center in the Park will be joining with the LGBT Elder Initiative, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, and Mount Airy USA for Balancing Dollars & $en$e, a daylong series of workshops designed to provide individuals age 55 and over with information on housing and finances later in life. Workshops will cover topics including budgeting, cyber security, reverse mortgages, legal planning, credit repair, entrepreneurship, home ownership, and more. The event will also include a community resource fair through which participants can connect with local resources that can help address their financial, legal, and housing needs. Those interested in attending should register by calling Center in the Park at 215-848-7722.

David Griffith is the director of programs and outreach for the LGBT Elder Initiative.