The nation's face of hunger is changing: More than 8 million boomers ages 50 to 64 are turning to charities for food assistance, according to a new report by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks that provide food and groceries to Americans in need.
“Hunger is an invisible problem that millions of older Americans battle silently every day. We have found that the 'youngest old' – people 50 to 59 – tend to suffer the most, often having to skimp on meals or skip them altogether because they can’t afford them,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation, which helped fund the study. “Feeding America’s boomer-focused research reinforces our earlier research on this hidden and very serious problem, and intensifies our commitment to address it.”
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More than 60,000 Feeding America clients responded to questions for the study. Lack of employment, housing instability, poor health and unpaid medical bills are among the factors prompting the 50-to-64 age group or "pre-seniors" — most of whom are not yet eligible for Social Security and Medicare — to seek food assistance.
Pre-seniors are particularly vulnerable to hardship, according to data collected from respondents. They are more likely than their older counterparts to:
- Experience housing instability, such as having to move in with friends or family in the past year (18 percent) or facing foreclosure or eviction in the past five years (15 percent)
- Describe their own health as fair to poor (59 percent)
- Have unpaid medical or hospital bills (58 percent)
- Live in a household experiencing poverty (72 percent)
- Live in a household that is food insecure – defined by the USDA as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food (86 percent).
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Also, pre-seniors are struggling to find and keep jobs in a slowly recovering job market, with many of those who are working not earning enough to make ends meet. Nearly two-thirds of pre-seniors had not been employed in the past year, with most citing poor health or disability as the reason.
The report also examined multigenerational households, specifically households with at least one older adult and at least one grandchild. Among these households, 77 percent live at or below the federal poverty line.