There’s been a lot of talk about the middle-income seniors in the news and elsewhere and now it’s getting the attention it deserves. As expected, we will see a massive increase in the number of middle-income seniors over the next decade. According to the research, this group will have doubled to 14.4 million by 2029.
A recent NORC study, one of the largest independent social research organizations, looked at what it called the “forgotten middle” and found that this group has few options when it comes to long-term care and housing.
The middle market includes Americans who have too much in financial resources to qualify for government support programs such as Medicaid, but not enough to pay most private pay options for very long. If policymakers fail to act, aging middle-income earners risk exhausting their savings on long-term care, threatening their financial security and Medicaid’s long-term sustainability.
When looking at potential care needs of middle-income seniors, the research found that two-thirds will have three or more chronic conditions and a projected 60% will have mobility issues. What’s more, this gap in options for middle-income seniors is only going to grow. According to the research, 20% will be high need—the most likely to need additional supports—but most (54%) will not be able to afford senior housing.
The research confirmed that the middle market would be able to afford senior housing if annual costs were cut by $15,000. If average annual costs for seniors housing and care fell by just $10,000 a year, an additional 2.3 million older Americans would be able to afford it. That’s a significant untapped market for senior housing owners, operators and investors.
What’s more, as the oldest Baby Boomers reach their 80s in the 2020s, their care needs will likely drive more moves into senior housing. According to the study, that means the next 10 years present an opportunity for the industry to broaden its target market and create new housing options.
Senior living communities like assisted living and independent living communities have the potential to help seniors of all income levels get the care they need. Under the right circumstances, housing providers can help breakdown silos in the care service system by addressing a range of needs in a single setting. When it comes to middle-income adults, there’s a growing need for housing options.
Government could play a bigger role through a range of solutions, including increasing access to affordable housing through tax credits and vouchers, expanding Medicare Advantage plans and broadening Medicaid eligibility.
It’s time that we broaden the scope of available options to fit more older adult needs.
Carol Marak is an aging advocate and editor at Seniorcare.com. She holds a Certificate in Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.