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Kai Ryssdal: A lot of the national economic conversation we've been having the past year or two has been about the labor market and the 8.5 million people who lost their jobs during the recession, and the millions more who kept their jobs but had their hours or their wages cut. There's another chunk of the population facing an uncertain future -- people who've already done their time on the job.
From Iowa Public Radio, Sarah McCammon reports.
Sarah McCammon:On a recent afternoon in the small town of Monroe, Iowa, retirees Bill and Maureen Miller open the kitchen door and step outside. They want to show me a new wheelchair ramp built on their back porch several months ago.
Maureen Miller: With the power chair, yeah, he can come out with his hover-round, go right down that ramp, right around to the car and take off. He can drive, he just can't walk. Not at a distance. There, just watch that snow and ice, Bill.
Maureen is 77 and Bill is 80. Before the ramp, complications from Bill's diabetes were making it hard for him to get around. They live off Social Security and Bill's small pension from a former employer. But with medical costs and property taxes going up, they say money has been getting tight. So earlier this year, the Millers reluctantly decided to ask for help from a local non-profit agency. It covered the $2,200 cost to build the ramp.
Bill: You know, we've always had good jobs, we've always had nice homes, nice cars -- we've always lived good. But now with the economy like it is, it's just depressing to have to live and have to worry about where your next meal's gonna come from. It's always a worry.
The Millers aren't unusual. Peggy Whorton-Folsom is with the group Aging Resources of Central Iowa. She says she's hearing from more white-collar retirees who've seen retirement funds dwindle or who can't sell their homes.
Peggy Whorton-Folsom: We're seeing people that have never in their history had to turn anywhere for assistance.
It's a decision seniors across the country are having to make, says Sandy Markwood. She's the CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. In a recent survey, roughly 60 percent of officials with agencies around the U.S. say they're seeing more of what they describe as middle-income seniors needing help.
Sandy Markwood: They feel humiliated. They never thought they'd have to ask for assistance. And they have this sense of failure. Quite honestly, these are people who thought they did everything right, who really held on to the American dream of retirement.
At the Miller house, Maureen opens a bedroom door and is greeted enthusiastically by her two small dogs. She says it was tough having to ask for the money for Bill's ramp. But now she sees it as a means of staying independent.
Maureen: It's wonderful that he don't have to tread up them steps no more, 'cause he can't do it no more hardly.
Bill: I don't think of myself as being that old. I'm 80, but I feel good.
The Millers say their goal is to stay in their house, and out of a nursing home. While they swallowed their pride and accepted money to build the ramp, they hope they never have to ask their kids for help.
In Monroe, Iowa, I'm Sarah McCammon for Marketplace.