Seniors: The Hidden Hungry

Senior citizens, often referred to as the hidden hungry, make up a sizable portion of Arlington Charities diverse clientele and require special considerations due to their age, physical handicaps, and dietary restrictions. Arlington Charities has been partnering with meals on wheels since 2016 to deliver meals to over 175 seniors who are physically unable to make it to our pantry. However, many of our seniors are unable to get out much or choose their own ingredients and relish in the ability to do so. In 2018, Arlington Charities partnered with handi-tran to shuttle seniors to our location so they can shop for groceries themselves.

Many seniors live on their own and deal with mobility issues, which inhibit their ability to do things such as go grocery shopping or hold employment. To complicate things further, around 1/3 of seniors do not have retirement savings or are in debt falling below the poverty line. More and more seniors are working to provide a source of income. As the majority of American’s remain in the workforce longer, competition for employment rises and salaries decrease. The changing knowledge requirements and physicality of the workforce also provide significant barriers for seniors. The fact remains that over 10 million seniors are food insecure and that number is rising.

Competing expenses and limited funds are huge factors of food insecurity in seniors. Chronic health problems are also more prevalent in seniors which draw a lot of expenses and energy. This is often coupled with rising rent and housing prices. When choosing between paying for Medicaid, rent, and food, it is often food that loses. However, lack of food can complicate health problems further. According to Feeding America, 60% of food insecure seniors are at a greater risk of depression, 53% are more likely to have a heart attack, and 40% report heart failure.

There are a variety of programs that can provide seniors with supplemental income, the most well-known being social security. Statistics from the Social Security Administration show that 60% of retired workers rely on social security for about half of the monthly income and 33% relying on social security for their full monthly income. The average monthly stipend for social security is $1,360 which can be hard to stretch across multiple expenses. The massive influx of baby boomers becoming seniors is also creating problems for social security. It is estimated that by 2022, social security will be paying out more than it generates in revenue. By 2034 social security stipends are expected to decrease by 23% to make up for loss of revenue streams and near complete exhaustion of its $3 trillion cushion. Other programs, such as SNAP, can add some supplemental income to cash strapped seniors. However, pride, ignorance, or simply not knowing how to sign up causes many seniors to forgo these programs.

Food insecurity in seniors is a complicated and often overlooked problem that can stem from a variety of factors. As with food insecurity in many demographics, competing expenses often cause food to be put on the back burner. Nonetheless, seniors are unique because they are prone to mobility issues, health problems, and dietary restrictions that hinder their ability to go grocery shopping or hold employment to pay for food. The rising number of seniors cause problems for stipend programs, such as social security, and other programs may prove complicated for seniors to enroll in. Addressing food insecurity in seniors requires a unique mindset that is able to work with any physical or cognitive limitations and make participation as easy as possible. Arlington Charities’ Senior Distribution Program is working hard to address these challenges.

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