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Foreclosure crisis hits older Americans hard
Question of the Day
WASHINGTON — More than 1.5 million older Americans already have lost their homes, with millions more at risk as the national housing crisis takes its toll on those who are among the worst positioned to weather the storm, a new AARP report says.
Older African Americans and Hispanics are the hardest hit.
“The Great Recession has been brutal for many older Americans,” said Debra Whitman, AARP’s policy chief. “This shows that home ownership doesn’t guarantee financial security later in life.”
Even working two jobs hasn’t been enough to allow Jewel Lewis-Hall, 57, to make her monthly mortgage payments on time. Her husband has made little money since being laid off from his job at a farmer’s market, and Lewis-Hall said her salary as a school cook falls short of what she needs to make the payments on her home in Washington.
Lewis-Hall and her husband have been making their payments late for about a year, but panic didn’t set in until recently, when the word “foreclosure” showed up in a letter from the bank.
“You’re used to living a certain way, but one thing leads to another,” Lewis-Hall said. “It’s not like I have a new car or anything. I’m driving one from 1991.”
According to AARP:
• About 600,000 people who are 50 years or older are in foreclosure.
• About 625,000 in the same age group are at least three months behind on their mortgages.
• About 3.5 million — 16 percent of older homeowners — are underwater, meaning their home values have gone down and they now owe more than their homes are worth.
AARP said that over the past five years, the proportion of loans held by older Americans that are seriously delinquent jumped by more than 450 percent.
Homeowners who are younger than 50 have a higher rate of serious delinquency than their older counterparts. But the rate is increasing at a faster pace for older Americans than for younger ones, according to AARP’s analysis of more than 17 million mortgages.
Americans who are 50 or older are hard-pressed to recover from the collapse of the housing market that started in 2006 and was compounded by the recession that started in 2007. Eight in 10 of them own homes, but many live on fixed incomes, have little savings or have already burned through much of their retirement savings. They also have fewer working years left to build back what they may have lost.
And those who are forced to re-enter the workforce often find they can’t command the same salary that they did in the past.
Older minorities are facing foreclosure rates that are almost double those faced by white borrowers of the same age, mirroring a nationwide trend seen in other age groups as well. Among older African Americans, 3.5 percent were in foreclosure at the end of 2011, and the rate was 3.9 percent for Hispanics. Just 1.9 percent of white homeowners were in foreclosure.
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