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Q & A with AARP Foundation’s Lisa Marsh Ryerson and Financial Health Network’s Jennifer Tescher

What is the Financial Lives after 50: Rethinking the Golden Years project?

Lisa: People often make assumptions about the lives of individuals in communities, particularly about low- to moderate-income (LMI) people who are older. These assumptions portray a narrow picture. We embarked on this project with the Financial Health Network, with the generous support of Chase, to explore what is actually happening for people in their lives, in their communities and in their families. In order to conduct qualitative research, our team set out to talk to real people, where they live, about the financial challenges they face on a daily basis.

How have financial challenges for older adults shifted from past generations?

Jennifer: In the past, we assumed that older adults were retiring without debt, having paid off their home. Today, that picture is quite different. LMI individuals over 50 are experiencing increased demands on their time and money. Life expectancies are far greater and many people are continuing to work much longer than they used to. This raises the complexity of how to manage finances for an additional 20 to 30 years and challenges the entire picture of their financial lives.

Why is this project important?

Lisa: The goal of this work is to inform how we build and advance effective solutions for LMI individuals over 50. We can’t build and advance solutions organization-to-organization, or off in a lab somewhere, divorced from the lives of individuals in their communities. We have to start with people first, where they are. This project, using human-centered design, provides a foundation of learning to further advance the goals of our work at AARP Foundation. It encourages other organizations to do the right work to design, create and advance solutions that are actually meeting root causality.

How does this project add to existing research?

Jennifer: In partnership with AARP Foundation, we’ve gathered a tremendous amount of data about the financial lives of LMI individuals over 50. We realized that to bring it to life, we needed to add the real stories of older adults – how they are making complicated decisions about their financial lives. So this project is really to gather those stories, to hear from people in their own words: How are they dealing with the need to save more? Their burgeoning debt? Their need to help other family members? Their concerns about healthcare?

What excites you most about this project?

Lisa: We know from earlier research that 42 million older adults —, 83% of those who are low to moderate income —, are struggling with one or multiple dimensions of their financial health. At AARP Foundation, as we’re working hard and with keen focus to increase economic opportunity for older adults, we’re also working on increasing social connections. What I appreciate so much about this project is that it helps more older adults realize that it is both okay and important to share their stories about the struggles they face. It creates a national conversation and allows them to know that they’re not alone.

What are some topics that will be covered?

Jennifer: Episodes will tackle a range of financial challenges including savings shortfalls, growing debt burdens, medical shocks, and increased family responsibilities. One of the numbers that most stands out to me from the research is that 81 percent of LMI older adults in America have debt and of those, about 39% say that debt is unmanageable. Debt, as with a majority of these topics, can have many causes and can bleed into other areas of financial health. Each episode will give viewers a first-hand account of how complex and challenging navigating financial health on a tight budget can be.

Financial Lives after 50: Rethinking the Golden Years will premiere in early 2020. Stay tuned.

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