A new report from the AARP, "The State of 50+ America," shows that over the past 10 years, life for baby boomers and their parents has generally improved although there are some striking vulnerabilities.

In a first of its kind report, the AARP points out that Americans aged 50 to 64 improved on every economic measure over the decade while older individuals (65+) improved on most measures, except that their share of income from sources other than Social Security declined, and their employment rate and self-reported health status also decreased.

Of course, the picture is more negative when the focus is on the immediate past. Both age groups have suffered financial and health care setbacks. "The new report gives us a clear snapshot of 50 and over America," says AARP Board Member Jennie Chin Hansen. "Using any number of yardsticks, life has improved for many in recent years. But serious weaknesses remain, and must be addressed."

According to John Rother, AARP's Director of Policy and Strategy, with the stock market boom of the 90s, retirees could have been expected to get more of their income from sources other than Social Security. However, the report shows that the percentage of those 62 and older who receive a majority of their income from non-Social Security sources actually declined slightly over the last decade by nearly one percentage to just half (49.9 percent).

"Financial protection that cannot be outlived is still crucial for most older Americans," Rother says. "Social Security provides, and must continue to provide, a secure income base for millions of Americans." He is also quick to point out that for many of today's workers, it is the only pension they will have.

Based on 20 indicators, the report describes the well being of these generations, noting whether their lives are getting better or worse.

Among the financial highlights are:

  • The number covered by pension plans increased nearly 10 percent from 45.5 to 49.2 percent over the decade, but fewer than half is now covered.
  • Median family income rose 12 percent to $35,800 over the last decade. But the proportion achieving a minimally adequate standard of living improved only four percentage points to 71.7 percent in that period. For those over the age of 65, more than one-third (38 percent) do not reach that level. For those between 50 and 64, one in five (20 percent) do not reach the minimal standard.

The health care picture, though, is a mixed one, with both good news and bad news.

  • Forty-seven percent reported their health as "excellent" or "very good," an increase of two percentage points from 10 years ago. Those in both age groups made progress over the decade, but there is a disparity between the groups. For those between 50 and 64, 45.5 percent do not report excellent or very good health, while the figure for those 65 and over who do not report excellent or very good health is 61.9 percent.
  • The percentage who engage in physical activity increased nearly two percentage points to 25.4 percent, but that is still only one-quarter of those 50 and older. The AARP says that most recent available figures show that 28.9 percent of younger individuals report physical activity, while only 21 percent of the 65+ group do so.
  • However, nearly half (46 percent) are providing care to a family member or loved one. And care giving involves substantial burdens for about 10 percent of those 50+.

Keep one thing in mind. The recent dismal economy has been felt all over, but it's particularly reminded seniors how thin their economic security is. In fact, this particular group of Americans, which holds more than two-thirds of the nation's assets, lost eight percent of its money in a one-year period after the stock market went south in 2000.

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