Senior Bankruptcies

It would be nice if the poor were to get even half of the money that is spent in studying them.” Bill Vaughn

oldmanart.jpgPredicting economic future is similar to predicting the weather: there is rarely certainty. Many people unexpectedly face at some point in their lifetime periods when expenses are overshadowed by an inability to pay them. Sometimes taking on a temporary second job or cutting back on unnecessary luxuries can help weather many through tough times, but what happens when these woes surface at age 60, 70, 80, or older and finding suitable employment is not so easy? What if the expenses crippling your budget are due to escalating medical bills and are not because of frivolous extras?

At higher numbers than ever, seniors find themselves without recourse and are forced to head to the courts to file for bankruptcy. In a study examining some 6,000-plus noncommercial bankruptcies filed between 1991-2007, the 55-plus age group’s filings went from 8 percent in 1991 to 22 percent in 2007. But the numbers most staggering belong to the oldest group, those over 75. The findings of the study to be published by Harvard Law and Policy Review in January noted that it is America’s older population that are seeing significant bankruptcy increases while those age groups under 55 were seeing double-digit percentage drops.

Bankruptcy filings per thousand people in the 55-64 age group was up 40 percent, the 65-74 year olds were up 125 percent, and the 75-84 year old group was up 433 percent. That these seniors should be subjected to such financial stress in their final years should indicate to society a need to be looking at these numbers very closely.

“Older Americans are hit by a one-two punch of jobs and medical problems and the two are often intertwined,” stated Elizabeth Warren, one of the authors of the study and professor of Law at Harvard. “They discover that they must work to keep some form of economic balance and when they can’t, they’re lost.”

Factors for these increased bankruptcies among seniors vary. For many living on fixed incomes, higher prices for ordinary consumer goods can put unmanageable strain on a budget. Some older people fall victim to scams or unscrupulous business dealings creating an economic setback, and too often there is no savings account or other safety net to fall back on. Health-related expenses can mount quickly causing sudden financial downfall. Seniors are facing these troubles not due to a life of excess but for any number of other reasons. Makes you wonder what lies in the future with so many heading towards seniorhood. What numbers will the next 16-year study find?

Certainly, it will prove more difficult to find possible solutions for this economic dilemma than it was to come up with the stats, so hopefully Harvard has saved some of its research money to busy those Ivy League brains in search of a resolution for this now-identified growing crisis. Regardless, I bet Bankruptcy Law enrollment will go through the roof.

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