Older Islanders and those on fixed incomes know all about tough times
For retirees living on fixed incomes - a monthly social security check, a pension, or investment earnings - these times of rising living expenses and plummeting portfolio values make themselves felt here on Martha's Vineyard as well as across the country.
"This is exactly like the Depression," Jane Searle, 89, said this week, "but I was protected by my parents then. Now, I am here alone." Mrs. Searle became a widow in December, 2007, and by February realized she had to sell her Island home "because I cannot keep up this mortgage." Her husband had two pensions, but she is living now on Social Security, has moved from her home to Woodside Village and rents the house while it sits unsold.
Mrs. Searle has reduced the asking price of her home twice since February, but still, no buyers. A regular volunteer at the Tisbury Senior Center, Mrs. Searle now has lunch there five days a week. "You can't buy a hot dog in a restaurant for two dollars, and I get a full four-course meal every day for two dollars" she said.
According to an Urban Institute report, published by AARP in mid-October, there has been a $1.6 trillion, or 18 percent, destruction of retirement accounts, as a result of this economic recession. Even younger retirees are feeling the pinch of investment portfolios that are worth only a portion of their value just months ago.
"The younger retirees are not traveling as much, are not going on vacations or to Florida for the winter," says Tisbury Senior Center Director Joyce Stiles-Tucker. "In fact, they are trying to sell their condos in Florida."
The Tisbury Senior Center recently hosted a guest lecturer who offered up-to-date information on reverse mortgages. According to Sandra Whitworth, activities director, the session was well attended. "I was so impressed by the really good, smart questions." Retirees look for ways to generate revenue and trim expenses that they have not had to consider before.
Ticket sales were down this year for the Tisbury Senior Center's Travel Club trips to the BSO program. "Once or twice, I have had someone call to inquire about tickets, and when we talk about the ticket price and the bus expense, they said, 'Gosh, you know it's a $100 Saturday and so close to Christmas. I better not do this.' A year ago they would not have thought twice about it," says Ms. Whitworth.
"There are people here who are seeking fuel assistance, and you know they have not sought it out in the past," says Roger Wey, director of the Oak Bluffs senior center. "Because of the economy and their investments, they are concerned." He is also seeing people coming in and getting in line for his center's food pantry who never did in the past.
The Oak Bluffs senior center counseling service is seeing an increase in the demand for counseling services by seniors worried about how they are going to get by in this economy. "People have worked all their lives and think they are going to be secure for the rest of their lives, and then this happens," added Mr. Wey, an Oak Bluffs selectman. "Even if there is a rebound in 10 to 20 years, it won't help them,"
The Tisbury Senior Center saw a surge in the sale of $10 annual senior VTA bus passes in September, and Ms. Stiles-Tucker expects to see another when the 2009 passes go on sale in December. The rising cost of food, heat, gasoline, rent, and the cost of home upkeep are affecting retirees here, she confirms.
"There was an increase in the number of people who are applying for the fuel assistance program that started on Nov. 1," says Ms. Stiles-Tucker, as well as for the $2 daily lunch program
But, Ms. Stiles-Tucker added, despite their financial worries, "Most of the people I talked to are saying. 'We have seen it before. It is really scary and tough, but we will get through it.' People do not want to get into the 'woe is us' discussion."