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Growing Old in West Virginia - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

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When it comes to aging in place, there's a lot to learn from West Virginia. It is the nation's second oldest state and with a burgeoning aging population and high poverty rates, West Virginia faces many challenges in meeting the needs of its older adults.

What's good. The state's network of policy makers, advocates, service providers and administrators is taking a close look at what it means to retire in West Virginia. Last week, through the launch of the West Virginia Elder Economic Security Initiative, WOW and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy released data on what it really costs to age in every county across the state. And through the development of the West Virginia Long Term Care Partnership, the state will improve access to long-term care services and supports so that older West Virginians can stay in their homes and communities where they want to be.

What's bad. West Virginia is growing older - at a startling rate. From 2000 to 2030, the number of elders will increase dramatically. For those 65-69, the population is expected to grow by 48%, for those 75-79 by 53% and for those 85 and older by 68%. At the same time, the state's younger population is plummeting. Without adequate planning and investments, the coming age wave will strain the state's available support systems.

What's ugly. More staggering, however, is new data that illustrates what it costs for older West Virginians to afford retirement on a bare bones budget. According to statewide averages of the West Virginia Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), an elder needs between $14,800 and $20,600 to meet his or her basic needs, depending on health and housing status.

Further, the findings show that Social Security alone is simply not enough to make ends meet in retirement. This is true statewide for most men and all women, who tend to rely more so on benefits and yet have lower payments. Yet for almost 30% of West Virginia seniors, Social Security comprises their entire income in retirement.

So, what can we learn from West Virginia? The circumstances in West Virginia are not entirely unique. On the whole, our nation is aging. Federal, state and county leaders can learn from West Virginia's commitment to planning ahead for the age wave.

Further, it is clear that Social Security benefits must be strengthened - not cut. Although never intended to be the sole source of income in retirement, a large proportion of seniors will rely solely on Social Security benefits to meet their basic needs. And that will be even more relevant for future generations of retirees who will be less likely to access pensions and other employer-sponsored retirement plans. What we see in West Virginia makes it clear - we as a nation must fight to keep the promise of Social Security.