Food crisis for seniors?

Concerns about hunger in King County have primarily focused on families with children.  Since the Great Recession, however, the need for food assistance among King County seniors has increased dramatically.

Food bank visits by seniors rose as visits by younger residents declined.

In 2016, for example, adult age 55 and older accounted for almost 1 in 3 food bank visits, up from 1 in 5 in 2010.  In the time period, the number of food bank visits decreased for all age groups except seniors, for whom the numbers of both new and returning clients increased.

The jump in use of food banks among King County seniors was paralleled by an increase in participation in Washington’s Basic Food program (formerly known as food stamps), which grew from 17,931 King County residents age 65+ in 2010 (9% of the 65+ population) to 28,426 (12%) in 2016.

Basic Food participation among seniors has increased in all major King County cities.

Increases have been especially steep in Tukwila, where 30% of seniors age 65+ participated in Basic Food in 2016.  Sharp increases have also occurred in the South Region cities of Kent, Seatac, Federal Way, Renton, Burien, and Auburn, with participation rates ranging from 15% to 22%.   All major cities in King County have experienced participation increases among seniors.  For other age groups, use of Basic Food peaked between 2012 and 2013 and has declined thereafter.

This trend isn’t just about food.  Steep increases in the cost of living in the Puget Sound region have exacerbated our homelessness problem, and can be difficult to afford on a fixed income.   It’s easy to understand why seniors might go without food or medication to keep a roof over their heads.  Even in times of economic expansion, food benefits may become increasingly important for the older members of our communities.

For more information, see Communities Count data on Basic Food, food hardship, and food bank trends, plus a link to an interactive map of food bank locations.

2016 City Health Profiles reveal little-known facts

The newly updated City Health Profiles are filled with fascinating details about King County communities.  For example, did you know that …

  • … residents of Northeast Seattle live an average of 9.9 years longer than those in South Auburn (86.2 versus 76.3 years, respectively)?
  •  … Seattle’s Queen Anne/Magnolia area ranks #1 for excessive drinking in King County (37% of adults, compared to 10% in the west section of Kent)?
  • … King County islands are magnets for seniors:  On Mercer and Vashon Islands, 1 in 5 residents is 65 or older, compared to only 1 in 14 in Sammamish?
  • … 88% of Mercer Island/Point Cities adults saw a dentist in the past year, compared to only 44% of adults in SeaTac/Tukwila?

In this year’s companion Appendix, you can find neighborhood-specific data from King County’s 7 largest cities (Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kent, Kirkland, Renton, and Seattle).

Coming soon:  An interactive version of the 2016 City Health Profiles and Appendix will be posted online.  New features for the appendix include maps and automatic rank-ordering of demographic and health information across 48 geographic regions in King County.

Seniors no longer protected from food hardship

It hasn’t hit the headlines yet, but news from the latest Communities Count data update is sobering:  In just 3 years, King County seniors lost their “protective” status and are now as likely as younger King County residents to run out of food without having money to buy more.  In 2010, the rate of food hardship among seniors (4%) was lower than the King County average (8%).  By 2013, this relative advantage had disappeared: 1 in 10 seniors reported running out of food, a rate that did not differ from the King County average (13%) or from other age groups.

This finding (from a telephone survey fielded by Washington’s Department of Health) receives support from anecdotal reports of increasing numbers of seniors seeking food assistance from local food banks.  And things aren’t likely to improve in the foreseeable future.  In their Senior Hunger Fact Sheet, Feeding America projects that by 2025 the number of seniors experiencing food insecurity will increase by 50%, and notes that “seniors may have unique nutritional needs and challenges that separate them from the rest of the population.” The fact sheet also stresses the health risks faced by food-insecure seniors, and reports that “elderly households are much less likely to receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) than non-elderly households, even when expected benefits are roughly the same.”

See Communities Count’s Food topic for additional updates on food hardship.