Having access to health insurance, being adequately prepared for retirement and surviving the current economic crisis are some of the top concerns for seniors living in the territory, according to a survey recently conducted by the AARP.
The survey for citizens aged 50 and older usually lumps the territories in with the national data, but this time around included calls to more than 400 V.I. residents, giving local AARP officials a better picture of what’s trending among their population.
The data has been shared with the Legislature and the governor so that it can be used to aid in policy decisions and generate more discussion among stakeholders, V.I. AARP State Director Denyce Singleton said Monday.
"I don’t think any one organization can come up with solutions for the data we see here," Singleton said. "But I think what we need to do is have more coalitions and town hall meetings around these issues so that all stakeholders have some input as to what they think is the best course of action for the groups they represent. At least this is some basic data that documents what the issues are so that we can move forward."
Results indicated that 90 percent of the adults surveyed thought staying healthy and mentally sharp, having Medicare and Social Security available when they needed it, and having good health care insurance were top priorities, but only one in five said they had the resources needed to get or keep those things.
Another 25 percent of the adults surveyed said they were "not confident" they would be able to maintain their existing level of health care coverage over the next five years, while 60 percent said paying for prescription drugs within the last year was a "major problem for them," according to the results.
When questioned on the topic of financial planning, 58 percent of the adults surveyed said they had saved or were saving for retirement with a 401K plan at work, a personal bank account or IRA fund, while 36 percent said they had not done any financial planning.
"When asked if an effort was made to calculate the amount of money they would need to save in order to maintain their current lifestyle during retirement, only 32 percent indicated that they had planned for saving, and 63 percent said they had done no planning," according to the survey.
Singleton said that while many of the adults surveyed felt they knew about social security benefits, they also were not prepared to retire because they were not getting enough in social security to make it with the high cost of living in the territory.
"Most said they’re just not ready for retirement," she said. "They don’t have everything they need and the only source, GERS, provides pensions for government employees. Those in the private sector or self-employed, we really have to be on our own, looking at an IRA or 401K to augment our social security or we will not be able to stay in the Virgin Islands as we retire."
Singleton said the data should also signal to younger people that they should start saving now for retirement.
"Younger people who are also concerned about whether social security will really be there, they really will have to start saving early if they want to have the type of retirement people are having now, where people are not necessarily getting rich, but at least they can afford to pay for basic necessities," she said.
Residents surveyed said they are also concerned about accessible sidewalks and good street lighting, alternative housing options, driving around the community and "staying in the local community as long as possible," the survey said.
Singleton said the next step for AARP is to go out and talk to both private and government agencies about the data, and what kind of programs can be made available "so we can get moving on some of these concerns."
"AARP has given the Virgin Islands a great opportunity by providing local data on trends and what Virgin Islanders feel are issues that are really relevant to the their personal lives," Singleton said. "And I hope we are able to get some of these forums and programs started so all stakeholders out there can really give their input."