Our society is built on hope and the promise of a better life ahead. That vision is becoming more difficult for many who find themselves among the New Desperate. The faces of those needing help is rapidly changing. They used to be called the welfare class. Today they are more likely to be aging Americans or the working poor.

20% of people over 65 have no savings and 1 in 5 are still working. Many more will have to go back to work at some point after retirement. The National Council for the Aging reports that 10.2 million people over 60 are under the threat of hunger. 15.8% of those over 60 receive food stamps.  Many of these Americans have worked hard all their lives and only reluctantly seek help. 10,000 new people turn 65 each day.

There are 9 million working poor in this country. They represent those who work full time or at least part of year but still fall below poverty level. The official poverty level is a set shocking low at $11,880 for 1 person, $16,020 for 2 and $24,300 for a family of 4. Interestingly, 50% of the 150 million wage earners in the US earn less than $26,500 a year. It’s not surprising that 43 million people receive food stamps. 

Many of the aging and working poor survive on carefully constructed webs of improvised self sufficiency.  It combines sacrifice, work, a sharing economy, family and social programs. It is a fragile web that is increasingly being challenged. 

The problems facing this group include 1) they often work at low paying and unstable jobs; 2) there is a lack of full year employment opportunities and layoff;, 3) they often lack the education or work experience to compete in todays job market; 4) some have health problems as the result of lack of access to health care; and 5) many social programs face cuts.

With the growing population over 65 and the changing job market for everyone, more will face the challenges of the new desperate. 

Resources for the New Desperate include, governmental agencies, churches, back to work programs and nonprofit social service organizations. All these need to be strengthened. However, it is perhaps the network of nonprofits that offer the greatest potential. 

Governmental agencies have the money and a skilled staff, but are often overwhelmed by numbers of people needing help and have programs difficult for applicants to understand fully. Churches have good intentions, but often lack the staff to identify those who truly deserve help. Back to work programs often come with substantial ladders of education difficult for some and can be costly. 

Nonprofit social service organizations offer targeted services for the needy. Most are funded by grants and donations. They run specific programs fostered by this funding. The goals and standards are clear and monitored. Applicants get more individual attention and can be matched better with needed services. Some nonprofits are venturing into traditional business areas. These are often in the hardest hit parts of a community, places that lack grocery stores, easily reachable employment opportunities and healthcare. Nonprofit organizations attract talented volunteers with skill and life experiences that make valuable contributions toward their goals. The nonprofit sector contributes over $875 billion (5.4% of the nation’s GDP) in impact to the economy. Of all the potential help for the new desperate, nonprofits working closely together may offer the best potential to serve those in need and deliver measurable impact. However, this depends on nonprofits receiving the well deserved support they need.

David Young

Sources for Article: National Council for Aging, US Bureau of Labor, Social Security Department, National Council of Non Profits, “The New Reality of Old Age in America” by Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan