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Avoiding poverty as you age

Enjoy retirement, if you can, at Safeco Field
Matt McGee
Enjoy retirement, if you can, at Safeco Field

How much income will you need to be financially secure after age 65?  It’s often hard to know. A new study shows what it costs for the elderly in Washington to live at home and stay out of debt.  

The amount varies by county, primarily because housing costs are the biggest component. For someone living in a one-bedroom apartment, with average medical needs, the annual cost of living is: 

  • $23,256 in King County ($32,772 for a couple)
  • $22,368 in Pierce County ($32,460 for a couple)
  • $19,884 in Whatcom County ($28,896 for a couple)
  • $17,820 in Spokane County ($26,292 for a couple)
"And that’s a bare bones budget -- no frills, no money for grandkids, or buying a pizza," says Stacy Sanders of Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), which commissioned the study in Washington and 12 other states. "It's simply meeting your most basic needs."

WOW wanted to know what it really costs to budget for food, housing, transportation and health-care. It's a national organization that's recently turned its attention to the elderly. It paid researchers at the University of Massachusetts - Boston to compile the data. 

One fact jumps out: People who are still paying off a mortgage after age 65 need a lot more money than renters or those who’re done paying – nearly $10,000 extra a year across much of Washington. 

That's one reason some elderly homeowners find they need to sell the house and become renters, since it can be significantly cheaper.

And nearly a quarter of Washington’s elderly – who never had jobs with retirement plans – are depending entirely on social security, which pays far below what it costs to live independently.  They often rely on rental assistance and free meals, according to Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging (W4A), which helps provide those services and co-sponsored the study.

The report, called the "Elder Economic Security Standard Index," also compares the cost of living for those with higher medical costs and those who need long-term medical care in their homes.

Read the Summary Report or Full Report.

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.