Older workers face economic crisis, insecurity, growing homelessness

By Brian Williams
October 9, 2023

Despite self-congratulatory reports in the liberal capitalist media that the U.S. economy is doing great, working people increasingly face a growing social crisis today. More and more older workers are losing their lodging, consigned to a shelter or onto the streets.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, older adults are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. Workers 55 and older made up nearly 20% of those living in homeless shelters in 2021, and thousands more live in their car or on the street. In Miami-Dade County those over 55 make up nearly 33% of the homeless; in Denver it’s 28%.

“The fact that we are seeing elderly homelessness is something that we have not seen since the Great Depression,” Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor, told the New York Times.

“These are people who worked their whole lives. They had typical lives, often working physically demanding jobs, and never made enough to put money away,” Margot Kushel, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the paper.

About half of the older homeless workers in Oakland, California; New York; and elsewhere lost their homes or apartments after their 50th birthday. Monthly Social Security payments, which many older workers depend on, are inadequate to cover workers’ rising rents. In Naples, Florida, for example, the average cost for renting an apartment was $2,833 in July, while the average Social Security payment for retired workers and their dependents that month was $1,791.

“Rent for me through the years has always been 50% to currently 76% of my monthly income,” Yvonne Tyno, 69, who ended up living in her Jeep Grand Cherokee, told the Times.“Even with a perfect rental history, perfect credit score and some savings, that was not enough.”

In Manhattan, even though the population has declined, the average monthly rent this July was $5,588, up 30% from 2019. That figure was the fourth time in the last five months a new record was set. While studio apartment rents have jumped 19%, apartments with enough room for a family have soared over 36%.

With the lifting of federal, state and local rent moratoriums put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, evictions have risen by over 50% in some cities, like Houston and Minneapolis. Rents nationwide are 30% higher than in 2019, with inflation making it increasingly difficult to cover rent, food and energy expenses. Government statistics show landlords file to evict some 3.6 million people every year.

Low-income housing, so desperately needed by millions of workers, is not being built by the billionaire developers because it doesn’t generate sufficient profits for them. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates there is a 7.3 million shortfall of such apartments nationwide. In New York state this means 656,000 workers and their families have been priced out of the housing market; in Florida it’s 400,000.

Accentuating the crisis is the fact that the “baby boomer” generation, born after the second imperialist world war, also face a scarcity of affordable assisted-living facilities. Where is the profit in that?

The general attitude among the bankers and bosses is if you can no longer work and generate income for them, your life is over. Those who run assisted-living facilities look to milk their residents of every penny they have left, and then push them out the door.

Growing numbers of people in their 70s and 80s today find themselves with no choice but to try to keep working — they desperately need the money.

Capitalist social crisis deepens

Since December 2020 workers’ real wages have declined by 3.2%. Inflation-adjusted median household income dropped by $1,750 between 2021 and 2022. And parts of the economy are already in a downturn. Manufacturing in August contracted for the 10th consecutive month.

High interest rates make it increasing difficult for many working people to cover rising credit-card debts, auto payments and spiraling rents and home mortgages. In fact, credit-card debt in the U.S. this year surpassed $1 trillion for the first time ever.

Another expense for working families that’s soaring is the cost of child care. In New York the average family spends over a quarter of its income for child care, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Governments facing their own budget crises are looking for ways to cut social programs. Through budget cuts, New York Mayor Eric Adams is reducing funds for free preschool programs for 3-year-olds. And his administration consistently delays paying city-funded day care providers their wages.

“A society that doesn’t cherish their young and their old is in crisis. This is the reality of capitalist exploitation and oppression today,” Sara Lobman, Socialist Workers Party candidate for City Council in New York, told the Militant. “Workers need their own political party, a labor party based on the unions, that can fight to take political power and reorganize society to meet human needs, not profits.”