MIDDLE CLASS IN DECLINE - Cost pressures building

DeWayne Bartels

Cost pressures are building on the middle class with rising gas, grocery and medical costs.

It is turning into what Heather?Underwood, program coordinator for AARP Illinois, calls a “bleak” outlook.

Underwood, a former North Peoria and?Dunlap resident, said an AARP poll conducted in April across the nation, shows some dire situations for the middle class, aged 45 and above.

“In terms of this poll it shows right now we’re facing some hard economic times,”?Underwood said.

“I believe the results show people are finding it difficult everywhere. It’s a bleak outlook.”

The poll of 1,002 adults, age 45 and above, found 81 percent of all respondents, and 86 percent of Hispanic respondents, said the economy is in fairly bad or very bad condition.

A similar percentage said the economy is getting worse.

More than one-fourth of all the respondents, and 41 percent of the Hispanic respondents said, paying the rent or the mortgage is becoming increasingly difficult. The same percentage said it is also difficult to find the money to put into their retirement account.

The poll showed that most respondents are struggling to deal with the increasing cost of food, gas, utilities and medicine.

Those polled said they are responding to these cost pressures by putting off  major purchases, cutting out luxuries and trimming travel plans.

Underwood said AARP feels the results show a need for much more information to the public about how to deal with these hard economic times.

“We believe it’s one of those things everyone has a stake in from social service agencies to government.”

Underwood said information is a valuable tool for those struggling to make ends meet and that it does make a difference.

“We get feedback all the time that people appreciate the information we provide,”?Underwood said.

The poll results also reveal more than one-fourth of all workers 45 and older are postponing their plans to retire.

“People are finding it harder to retire. Only one in five people today have a pension plan,”?Underwood said.

“Soaring medical costs are another issue influencing plans to retire. Many people are one step away from financial ruin. Costs continue to rise. Something has to be done.”

And, Underwood said, AARP is doing something.

AARP, in 2007, launched an initiative called “Divided We Fail.”

The initiative is designed to put pressure on elected leaders to do something about the financial crisis faced by so many?Americans, especially in the middle class.

“It’s time our elected leaders come together to address these issues,”?Underwood said.

With 39 million AARP members across the country, Underwood said, the organization has clout in Washington, D.C.

“Divided?We Fail is gaining ground,”?Underwood said.

“Our members are going to elected officials and demanding they deliver results on the medical cost crisis and financial security ... This survey shows the economic impact this economy is having on the middle class is huge. It is crossing all generations.”

Mary Patton of Peoria, a member of the AARP Illinois executive board, said this effort is vitally important and is an issue receiving good support from local legislators.

“I lobby in Springfield. We collect signature cards from people saying they will support legislators willing to work in a bipartisan manner to  address these issues,”?Patton said.

“In 2009 we plan to present these signatures in Washington.”

In May, Patton began working with state legislators asking them to sign a petition pledging they would work in a bipartisan manner on the issues of soaring health care costs and financial security.

“I’ve gotten good results actually,”?Patton said.

“We have to address this. It affects our country’s morale.”