Saturday, December 1, 2007

More on the rural elderly

Carolyn's post about Medicare reminded me of the large percentage of rural dwellers who are elderly, as well as of the particular challenges that spatial isolation and lack of services create for them. The departure from rural areas of young people searching for better economic opportunity means that rural areas are more gray these days than the rest of the country. This demographic trend is further exaggerated when urban folks retire to rural places in search of a quieter pace of life and a lower cost of living.

This piece in last week's New York Times is about a place in rural, coastal Maine that is representative of the phenomenon. The elderly depicted in this story are often living on their Social Security payments (around $600/month for several interviewed), sometimes supplemented by meager state fuel allowances and such. For the most part, they spent their working lives doing menial labor, sometimes seasonal, like blueberry picking. They now have little to show for it, as they struggle to survive on their limited fixed incomes. The isolation associated with rurality, aggravated by the isolation associated with aging is sobering indeed, although some note the considerable benefits associated with a sense of community and family nearby.

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