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Growing older is getting better

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Posted: 7 am ET

I went to a conference on retirement planning recently and carried home a thick book, courtesy of the federal Office of Management and Budget that offered a statistical picture of older Americans' financial and social well-being.

Just a casual glance through this inch-thick volume shows that old age isn't what it used to be. We boomers complain sometimes, but life for most of us is far better than the lives of our grandparents.

  • In 1965, only 24 percent of people 65 and older had graduated from high school and just 5 percent had a bachelor's degree. By 2010, 80 percent of people 65 and older were high school graduates and 23 percent had gone to college and earned a degree.
  • Between 1974 and 2010, the number of people 65 and older with incomes below the poverty level fell from 15 percent to 9 percent, and median household income for that population -- in 2010 dollars -- grew from $21,100 to $31,410.
  • Between 1983 and 2007, the median net worth, including the value of retirement accounts, of people 65 and older more than doubled from $103,750 to $220,800.

In 2008, this government compendium shows Medicare paid for 60 percent of the health care costs of people 65 and older. About 7 percent of care was covered by Medicaid, and 15 percent came from other sources, mostly private insurers. Only 18 percent of the health care costs of people 65 and older were paid out of pocket.

People complain about the cost of health care, but it's all relative. When my grandmother died of typhoid fever in the early 20th century, the health care she got -- cold compresses and herbal tea -- was free, but nobody would consider going back to those days.

It is easy to forget how good we have it.

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