Apart From Failing to Remain Young, They’re Faring Surprisingly Well

Marketers and TV programmers are notoriously indifferent to people who pass age 50. However, growing numbers of Americans insist on doing just that. And, due to what can only be some sort of cosmic mixup, they have more money than the young-and-hip. So, we’re obliged to check on the oldsters from time to time and see what they’re up to. Here, we focus on the part of a new AARP report (using data collected over the past few years) that relates to people age 50-64.

The political season has brought speeches about the middle class sliding into penury, but one sees scant reflection of this in data about the 50-64s’ finances. The proportion whose income is at least double the poverty level was 79.6 percent in 2002, vs. 75.7 percent 10 years earlier. There was negligible change in the proportion of 50-64s with health insurance—86.9 percent in 2002, vs. 86.7 percent 10 years earlier. The number “able to obtain medical care when needed during the previous 12 months” was even higher, at 94.4 percent in 2001 (vs. 94.3 percent 10 years earlier). Perhaps the sunniest news came from a question about how much “slack” people have in their household budgets: Respondents said 50.4 percent of their 2001 expenditures were for “non-necessities,” nearly unchanged from the 50.2 percent recorded 10 years earlier. The report’s financial numbers do suggest, though, that many 50-64s are in denial about retirement. As of 2002, the median financial assets of 50-64s was estimated at $43,542 in 2001 dollars. Though this doesn’t include home equity, it’s still worrisomely low. It’s not as if all these people expect their employers to care for them in their old age. As of 2002, just over half of workers in this age bracket were covered by any sort of pension plan. Nonetheless, polling last year found 63 percent of 50-64s “confident in their retirement future.” Why so many feel this way is a mystery.

We find a similar disconnect when the 50-64s discuss health and fitness. Many seem intent on proving that one can be a robust couch potato: Although just 28.9 percent described themselves as physically active, 54.5 percent rated their health as “excellent” or “very good.” And nearly everybody in this cohort (96.3 percent) claimed to suffer “no functional limitations.” (These health-related figures come from 2001 data.) As for their psychological well-being, do the 50-64s have sufficient contact with their family and friends? Enough to suit a majority of them: 63 percent said last year that they’re satisfied with the amount of family contact they have; 56 percent said the same of contact with friends/neighbors. The report tactfully refrains from mentioning whether the others are dissatisfied because they have too little or too much contact with kith and kin.