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Death by prosperity

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Posted: 5 pm ET

Why is it that more people die when the economy is on the upswing than when times are tougher?

The Center for Retirement Research took on the challenge of answering this question and came up with some really depressing conclusions, released today, that gave me, at least, pause about longevity and retirement planning.

At first blush, researchers proposed that the death rate rises when the economy is good because workers are working longer, sleeping less and eating lots of bad food, such as delivery pizza and burgers. But on closer analysis, people ages 65 and older accounted for 75 percent of the additional deaths. Women older than 65 alone represented 55 percent of the additional deaths. These women weren't overworked -- most of them weren't working at all. So what gives?

The researchers discovered that most of these women had lived in nursing homes. A 1 percent rise in nationwide employment equaled a 0.56 percent rise in nursing home deaths.

After looking at related stats, the researchers hit on Medicare records, which keep track of nursing home employment. They learned that a 1 percentage point decline in the U.S. unemployment rate caused more than a 3 percent drop in overall full-time employment at nursing homes. Employment of aides dropped by 3 percent, and employment of registered nurses fell by 2 percent.

A 4 percent drop in unemployment, which has happened in many parts of the country in the last two years, while good news for most people, has caused nursing home staffs to decline by about 12 percent.

Researchers concluded: "Tight labor markets constrain the already scarce number of workers available for hire by nursing homes, where older people in vulnerable health require direct and constant care. A greater scarcity of these front-line caregivers may have a direct impact on the elderly, causing them to die in greater numbers when the unemployment rate is declining."

Sad and another good reason to factor in plenty of money during retirement for long-term care -- preferably at home.

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