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Effective Compassion | Seniors are increasingly facing student loan debt and poverty
by Charissa Koh
Posted 6/26/19, 05:14 pm

Students loans, medical costs, and a lack of retirement savings are driving more seniors below the poverty line.

Americans age 60 and older owe more than $86 billion in student loans, according to a report from CBS News, which cited data obtained from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Seraphina Galante, a 76-year-old social worker in San Diego interviewed by CBS, earned a master’s degree late in her career but is still repaying student loans from nearly two decades ago. Each month the loans accrue more interest than her minimum payment, so her balance is growing.

Some like Galante went back to school to change careers, but many are paying off college loans they co-signed with children or grandchildren.

“I think it’s surprising and unknown to many that there’s a significant portion of older adults who live in or near poverty,” Leslie Fried of the National Council on Aging told me.

In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure showed 4.7 million adults older than 65 (just over 9 percent) living below the poverty threshold. The bureau’s supplemental poverty measure—which considers geography, housing, and medical costs—increased the number to just more than 7 million, about 14 percent.

Seniors relying on Social Security alone won’t find much relief. The average monthly Social Security benefit is about $1,400 a month. In December, the government announced a 2.8 percent increase in Social Security payments, the biggest in seven years.

“Higher payouts will simply enable retirees to keep up with the rising cost of living,” Paul Brandus at MarketWatch wrote. “It doesn’t mean that anyone’s standard of living will go up.”

Student loans are one of the only reasons debt collectors can garnish Social Security benefits. Many middle class workers are in danger of slipping into poverty after retirement as healthcare and housing costs continue to rise.

Wayne Martin, the retired senior adults pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston, told me churches can help by considering seniors’ physical and relational needs and visiting the homebound elderly. He also suggested that churches hire staff to serve seniors.

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Left to right: U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) at a news conference about migrant detainees Tuesday in Washington

No place for children

Last week, a group of lawyers reported terrible conditions for migrant children at a detention center near El Paso, Texas. The team from Human Rights Watch visited the border facility in Clint, Texas, and interviewed 60 of the more than 250 children detained there before reporting inadequate food, water, and sanitation. On June 19, there were three infants at the facility, all with their teen mothers, along with a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds, and a 3-year-old. There were dozens more younger than 12. Fifteen had the flu, and 10 more were quarantined.

“Little kids are so tired they have been falling asleep on chairs and at the conference table,” Warren Binford, a member of the legal team, said. The report also included stories of older children taking care of babies and children going days without showering.

In response, the U.S. government began moving the children to other facilities. “This morning, my office was informed that only 30 children remain in the Clint Border Patrol station in El Paso County,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, tweeted Monday. But then on Tuesday, a Border Patrol official said that 100 of the children who were transferred had been moved back to the Clint facility, with no update on improvements. —C.C.

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Attorney Sheri Johnson (center) leaves the Supreme Court after arguing on behalf of Curtis Flowers on March 20.

Supreme Court overturns murder conviction

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state of Mississippi’s murder conviction of Curtis Flowers, citing racial prejudice in jury selection. Flowers, an African American, was arrested in connection with the murders of four people in a Winona, Miss., furniture store in 1996.

Prosecutor Doug Evans tried six times to convict Flowers. The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned three convictions, and two resulted in hung juries. The Supreme Court overturned a 2010 conviction, ruling 7-2 that Mississippi passed over prospective jurors because they were African American. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion: “In sum, the state’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’ first trial through Flowers’ sixth trial,” adding that over the course of the six trials, the state struck 41 of 42 prospective African American jurors.

Evans has not said whether he will pursue a seventh trial against Flowers. —C.C.

Google donates to San Francisco housing

Last week, Google announced a $1 billion plan to help create affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company will donate $50 million to local nonprofit groups that fight homelessness while repurposing some of its own property for residential use. The plan involves building 15,000 housing units on Google-owned land and establishing an investment fund to motivate developers to build more.

As tech companies flourish, local housing prices tend to spike. Google’s announcement came the day before planned protests by activists and employees at a shareholders meeting for parent company Alphabet. Among protesters’ complaints: housing affordability. —C.C.

Fewer criminal aliens apprehended at the border

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are apprehending fewer criminals at the southern border with Mexico.

Earlier this month, Customs and Border Protection released numbers for the first half of the current fiscal year showing only 2 percent of apprehended migrants were what the government refers to as “criminal aliens”—immigrants who had been convicted of crimes in the United States or abroad.

This percentage has steadily fallen since the 2016 fiscal year, when about 7.5 percent of border patrol arrestees were criminal aliens or had active arrest warrants. —C.C.

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Charissa Koh

Charissa is WORLD's compassion reporter and a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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  • VISTA48
    Posted: Fri, 06/28/2019 05:05 pm

    "Get a degree and earn more money" has always been a rather poor strategy. A degree that leaves you with limited marketable skills is practically useless. Better to find something that needs to be done, and become good at doing it. I am a huge proponent of education, but mortgaging your entire life to obtain a slip of parchment is not the only way to become educated. True, we have made great strides by educating the masses, but the giant leaps have always been attained by independent thinkers. Sam Langley, with all of his background and monetary support from the US government, was outdone by a couple of bicycle mechanics from Dayton. Degrees and accolades are frequently eclipsed by hard work, determination, and the occaisional flash of genius.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 07/03/2019 02:01 pm

    Living in poverty in retirement is mostly directly tied to poor choices made earlier in life. I myself am a “poster child” for poor choices in my work and career.

    However, I’m not impoverished now that I’ve retired. Because, by the grace of God, along the line I also made some good choices, especially in my last 15 years working.

    Perceptive young people should be attentive to the struggles of some of their elders, and take lessons from what they see.