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The Elder Index: Research and Data

The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) was developed to provide an evidence-based indicator of the actual basic costs faced by older adults (ages 65 and over). The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research calculates those costs and examines their implications for California.

The Elder Index data is currently being updated. If you need updates or assistance, please contact Imelda Padilla-Frausto​.

Elder Index Demographic Dashboard 

The new Elder Index Demographic Dashboard compliments the Elder Index Cost of Living Dashboard by providing the percentage, number, and demographic characteristices of elder Californians, age 65 over, with incomes below the Elder Index thresholds.

The Elder Index Demographic Dashboard includes estimates on the number of economically insecure elders in California who have incomes lower than the Elder Index thresholds.  The California Elder Index calculates the cost of basic living expenses for shelter, food, medical care, transportation, and a minimal amount for miscellaneous such as personal care.  

The demographic dashboard includes estimates for 2011, 2013, and 2015*. The 2013 and 2015 estimates include six additional family types - older adults who are housing their adult children and grandchildren and those who are living with their adult children, with or without grandchildren. 

County and statewide estimates are provided in this interactive dashboard and can be viewed by demographic characteristics such as gender, age, race and ethnicity, and housing type (renters and homeowners).  Estimates can also be viewed by three Elder Index metrics, 1) "Below the Elder Index" includes the total number of elders with incomes below the Elder Index, 2) "Hidden Poor", provides the number of elders who are considered "poor" by FPL guidelines and the "hidden poor", that is elder with incomes above the FPL but still do not have enough income to meet their basic needs as calculated by the Elder Index, and 3) "FPL Comparisons" for 2013 and 2015 only, provides the number of elders with incomes below the Elder Index and where their income falls in comparison to three FPL ranges, <99% FPL, 100-199% FPL, and 200% FPL and above.


*Note: Estimates from 2011 are not comparable to estimates in later years due to the different family types included and family type groupings. Please reference table below for list of family types included in different years.


Family Types 2011 2013 & 2015
Single Elder & Elder Couple Included Included
Single and Elder Couple Raising Grandchildren Only Included Included
Single and Elder Couple Housing Adult Children Only Included Included
Single and Elder Couple Housing Adult Children & Grandchildren N/A Included

Single and Elder Couple Living with Adult Children Only N/A Included
Single and Elder Couple Living with Adult Children & Grandchildren N/A Included


The cost of basic living expenses for twelve family types with single elders or older couples in the household are included in the 2015 Elder Index. In addition to single elders living alone and older couples living in a two-person household, the other family types include 3 generation households where older adults are either housing or living with their adult children and minor grandchildren, and also includes 2 generation households where older adults are either housing or living with their adult children only or housing their grandchildren only.   
Data for the 2011, 2013 and 2015 Elder Index amounts are included in the interactive dashboard to select data by year, county, family type and housing tenure (renter, homeowner with and homeowner without a mortgage) and provides visual comparisons to the California average and to other counties in California  as well as comparisons to common income sources for older adults and to the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPL).
For ease of sharing and dissemination, data by county can be downloaded into a pdf or into an Excel file using the Elder Index Dashboard.    
Data source for adult children and grandchildren in 3 generation households are provided by Diana M. Pearce, PhD, Senior Lecturer and Director at Center for Women's Welfare, University of Washington, School of Social Work. 



Elder Index data for all counties and all years can now be downloaded in Excel using the links below.

The Elder Index - Basic Cost of Living by Family Type and County:

The basic cost of living for older adults includes expenses for housing, healthcare, food, transportation and a modest amount for miscellaneous expenses such as personal care, telephone and household maintenance.  The same expenses are consider for adult children and grandchildren including taxes that adult children pay and childcare expenses and tax credits adult children pay when a minor child is present in the home.  Data for all family types listed below can be viewed in the Elder Index Dashboard or data for all counties can be downloaded using the links below each family type.   

Older Adult is Head of Household:


Adult Child is Head of Household:


 Older Adults with Incomes Below the Elder Index:

The following link provides data on the number and characteristics of older adults with incomes below the 2011 Elder Index.  The hidden poor are defined as those with incomes above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) guidelines but below the 2011 Elder Index.


Number and Demographic Characteristics by County

    • 2011
    • 2013 
    • 2015 data and interactive dashboard coming soon!

Cost of Long-term Care by County:


February 2016: Hidden Health Problems Among California's "Hidden Poor" (Fact Sheet)

Almost one-quarter (24.2 percent), or 655,000 California adults ages 65 and older living alone or with only their spouse/partner had a 2013 income above the federal poverty level (FPL) but below the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey. This group of "hidden poor" are almost twice as likely to identify as being in poor or fair health, feel depressed, and report that they cannot get timely health care compared to their wealthier counterparts.
Using 2013-2014 California Health Interview Survey data, authors found 34 percent of the hidden poor group self-identified as being in "fair" or "poor" health, a rate almost twice as high as those with incomes above the Elder Index (17.5 percent). Hidden poor seniors had a higher rate of feeling depressed "some, most or all of the time" (10.6 percent) compared to 3.4 percent of the wealthier group. Almost twice as many had difficulty obtaining timely medical care (22.2 percent) compared with the wealthier group (11.9 percent). Older adults among the hidden poor also face barriers to care.

August 2015: The Hidden Poor: Over Three-Quarters of a Million Older Californians Overlooked by Official Poverty Line (Policy Brief)

Over three-quarters of a million (772,000) older Californians are among the “hidden poor" ? older adults with incomes above the federal poverty line (FPL) but below a minimally decent standard of living as determined by the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) in 2011. This policy brief uses the most recent Elder Index calculations to document the wide discrepancy that exists between the FPL and the Elder Index. This study finds that the FPL significantly underestimates the number of economically insecure older adults who are unable to make ends meet. Yet, because many public assistance programs are aligned with the FPL, potentially hundreds of thousands of economically insecure older Californians are denied aid.

See related press release: "More Than Three-Quarters of a Million Older Californians Are “Unofficially” Poor"

February 2014: Older Adults Challenged Financially When Adult Children Move Home (Policy Brief)

This policy brief looks at the financial burdens imposed on older Californians when adult children return home, often due to a crisis not of their own making, to live with their parents. The findings show that on average in California, the amount of money that older adults need in order to maintain a minimally decent standard of living while supporting one adult child in their home increases their expenses by a minimum of 50 percent. Low-income older adults are usually on fixed incomes, so helping an adult child can provide the child with a critical safety net but at the cost of the parents’ own financial well-being. Policy approaches to assisting this vulnerable population of older adults include implementing reforms to increase Supplemental Security Income (SSI), improving the availability of affordable housing, assuring that all eligible nonelderly adults obtain health insurance through health care reform’s expansion of Medi-Cal and subsidies, and increasing food assistance through SNAP and senior meal programs.

June 2013: The High Cost of Caring: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren?? (Policy Brief) 

This policy brief documents that the actual income needed to support a basic standard of living for older adults with grandchildren in California is about twice the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), depending on the county. Using 200% FPL as an approximate measure, about two-fifths of older grandparents who are responsible for their grandchildren in the state do not have enough income to make ends meet. The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) for California calculates that the costs of housing, food, and the older adults' health care account for more than two-thirds of total household expenses for grandparents and the grandchildren they are raising.

May 2012: The Federal Poverty Level Does Not Meet Data Needs of the California Legislature (Policy Brief)

This publication highlights results from a broad survey of the California legislature on the data and information they use to understand poverty in their districts and finds that most prefer data that is tailored to their local constituencies, and takes into account current costs for basic living expenses, rather than just income or spending patterns.

This policy brief uses the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) to show that both singles and couples age 65 or older who rent need more than twice the amount established by the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) Guideline to meet basic living expenses. 

This press
release describes the launch of new data that examines the cost of long-term care in all 58 California counties.

February 2009: Half A Million Older Californians Living Alone Unable to Make Ends Meet (Policy Brief)

Using the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), the authors of this policy brief find that nearly half a million elders (495,000) living alone in California in 2007 could not make ends meet—lacking sufficient income to pay for a minimum level of housing, food, health care, transportation and other basic expenses. The authors find particular cost inequities for elderly renters, for Latinos, women and the very old and find the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) that many programs use as part of eligibility guidelines is inadequate to support the needs of many seniors in California.

February 2008: Federal Poverty Guideline Underestimates Costs of Living for Older Persons in California (Policy Brief)

The federal poverty guideline, used to determine income eligibility for many public programs, covers less than half of the basic costs experienced by adults age 65 and older in the state. This report shows how the new Elder Economic Security Standard index (Elder Index) for California provides an empirically-based measure that more accurately reflects county-level costs faced by older adults in the state.