Today, the Mahoning Valley has the fifth highest percentage of residents 65 and older in the top 100 metro areas in the United States. And the valley has the lowest average household income – less than $30,000 per year.
Those statistics come from Dave Davis, a YSU journalism professor who specializes in gathering census and demographic data.
DAVIS: We tend to see people who are on the lower end, economically, who maybe lost a job, don’t have much in a pension, if anything, maybe tend to be relying more people solely on Social Security.
For some, aging in place translates to aging in poverty.
One of the organizations that helps residents is the Area Agency on Aging 11. It administers care for people 60 and older in Ashtabula, Columbiana Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Lisa Solley, chief of community relations, says her organization helps people maneuver through Medicare and Medicaid programs. She says many local seniors choose between food and medicine.
SOLLEY: I think there are a lot of people who end up cutting their pills either in half or going without for a while.
Some seniors don’t realize they qualify for food assistance and other plans: One new program is called “Extra Help.”
SOLLEY: If you qualify – and a lot of people do because it is not the same qualifications as Medicaid, it will help you with your medication payments. It can actually help you pay your premiums for Medicare. It is an average of $4,000 savings a year for people
Although she could not give us specifics, Solley did say her agency has seen an increase in assisted living during the past two years. Her goal is to keep people at home.
Both Davis and Solley point to pride as a contributing factor in not seeking help
DAVIS: I think what happens is, sadly a lot of times, they don’t speak up. They are isolated in their home, in a particular neighborhood, they need help but they don’t reach out because of their pride and because of who they are.
SOLLEY: People are especially, in the older generation, they are very prideful and they’ve worked hard all of their lives. It’s not easy for them to ask for help, but at the same time these programs exist and if they are here, we want to help you before your health gets worse.
Many other organizations and associations help seniors but sometimes – help comes from a neighbor.
Meet 84-year-old Pearl Underwood.
UNDERWOOD: I came from Philadelphia to Youngstown in 1949.
She settled in the Oak Hill area of Youngstown
UNDERWOOD: … 67 years right here.
She’s seen her neighborhood change over the decades. Oak Hill is identified by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. as having a 50 percent tax delinquency rate.
Oak Hill is troubled by crime, blemished by dilapidated, vacant houses and scarred by vacant lots used as dumping grounds.
Underwood captains the POGO block watch. POGO stands for Parkwood, Orange, Glenwood and Oak Hill.
UNDERWOOD: All the members of our block club, except a few men that are younger that will help us, they all senior citizen.
Underwood has been losing about one elderly neighbor each year.
She says some of the younger men in the neighborhood help out the older residents by delivering fresh fruit and vegetables from a community garden she created on one of the vacant lots.
UNDERWOOD: Kentucky wonders, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers.
She also grows fruit trees and blueberries to help supply some of the seniors with fresh fruit. And in a true-life example of turning lemons into lemonade, Underwood uses some of the dumped tires as planters for her azalea and other flowering bushes.
The block watch serves as a lifeline for the seniors..
UNDERWOOD: The police come every meeting and ask them what’s happening in the neighborhood what’s bothering them so we love it. They come.
Underwood eventually expects to move in with her daughter who lives in Boardman, but right now she’s happy in her Oak Hill home.
UNDERWOOD: I like living here.
Fifty percent of her neighbors live at or below the poverty line; 15 percent are older than 65.
For TheNewsOutlet.org, I’m Chris Davidson.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).