Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

November 7, 2011

Social insecurity: Senior citizens have ‘big impact’ on region’s economy

WELCH — Whether picking up prescriptions at the local pharmacy, buying groceries at the neighborhood supermarket or choosing to retire at an assisted living facility, seniors across the two Virginias are putting millions of dollars into local economies through their Social Security benefits.

Welch Mayor Reba Honaker said much of the local economy in Welch and all of McDowell County comes from the large population of seniors who live  there.

“People think the only money coming in is from the current work force, but seniors do make up a main part of our population and a lot of our income,” Honaker said. “They also keep a lot of our daily activities going. Every bit they can contribute keeps our economy going. Social Security has a big impact on our county.”

Honaker said many locally run businesses in McDowell County are kept in business by seniors.

“Seniors keep our local stores open and patronize them on a daily basis and weekly basis,” Honaker said. “Also, the eating establishments have a lot of seniors who come there. Any time you go into a local restaurant, you see a good number of senior citizens patronizing those establishments throughout the month.”

According to Honaker, the aging population of the county has also created many jobs in the health care industry.

“Senior health care creates a lot of jobs in the area,” she said. “I think we are well staffed in the health care areas. We have the Tug River Health Clinic that is very good for our seniors. Also, there is Welch Community Hospital, which is a wonderful establishment. I don’t know what we would do without it. We have good nurses and health providers. A lot of the seniors who patronize these places have created these jobs and kept these businesses going. We also have local doctors ho are kept in business by seniors. They stay busy and provide opportunities and services to our senior citizens.”

Shawn Allen, Region IV Coordinator for the West Virginia Aging and Disability Resource Center, said many people do not see how vital seniors and their Social Security money can be to the local economy.

“Seniors contribute in the same ways as other people in buying, selling and more,” Allen said. “What is important to our community is that our population is aging, so seniors in this capacity are very important. How this affects our economy is that we have more individuals living on a fixed income buying and reinvesting than in some other areas. This is important to us because we have such a high number of seniors in our region.”

Though they may live on a fixed income, Allen said it is still important that seniors are putting their money back into local businesses.

“It is important that those on a fixed income have spending power in order to help our economy sustain and grow,” he said. “A lot of companies in our region offer ‘senior discounts’ and things of that nature. Drug companies also tend to do this to sell plans to seniors.”

•••

Though seniors make up less than a quarter of the population in all local counties, their spending power and economic impact brings in millions to each county every year.

Social Security dollars bring in $1.28 billion to Virginia and around $442.9 million to West Virginia every year. Annually, local counties have anywhere from $22.2 million in Bland to $209.6 million in Mercer flowing into local economies through Social Security benefits.

However, the impact seniors have economically goes beyond how many millions they bring in to their home counties.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, a decent percentage of local economies comes from Social Security. Almost 10 percent of the state of West Virginia’s economy comes from Social Security benefits. In local counties, 11 percent of Mercer County’s economy, 15.6 percent of McDowell County’s economy, and 13.3 percent of Monroe County’s economy is directly based on Social Security income.

In Virginia, only 4.6 percent of the Commonwealth’s economy comes directly from Social Security dollars, though this number is again higher in local counties. In Tazewell County 11.2 percent of the local economy is based on Social Security. In Bland, 11.4 percent of the local economy comes from Social Security, with 11.8 percent of Giles County’s income coming through Social Security benefits. In Buchanan County, 15.4 percent of the county economy is based on Social Security dollars.

•••

Though he pinches his pennies, Hubert Scott, 85, of Princeton, said he is one of many seniors who shops locally and puts his Social Security income back into the area’s economy.

“I put just about all of the money I’ve got back into the local economy,” Scott said. “It saves me a lot of money to buy locally. I enjoy coming down to the Senior Center here to save as well. I think I’m doing pretty good. I’ve been retired from Consolidated Coal since 1987 after I was hurt on the job.”

Scott puts his money back into the local economy through buying groceries, eating at local restaurants, paying utilities, and other things.

“I probably trade in my vehicle every two years or so,” Scott said. “I pay for groceries, phone, the cable and the electric bill. I own my own home and save money because of that, but I still pay taxes.”

Marc Meachum, executive director of the Greater Bluefield Area Chamber of Commerce, said seniors like Scott help keep many local economies running in the two Virginias.

“Every business has to adapt to the marketplace and given that we are in a community that is a little bit older, I’m sure that businesses from a retail and service standpoint recognize that and market toward that group of individuals,” Meachum said. “Bluefield Regional Medical Center has just begun a senior social to try to actively communicate with the senior community and involve them in events that are not just health care related, but other things as well.”

Because several local businesses focus on seniors, Meachum said the greater Bluefield area has become a good place for many people to retire.

“Health care is one of the industries that we tout as being one of the biggest drawing cards, one of the things that attracts people to this area whether they are seniors or a little younger,” Meachum said. “We have excellent health care in this entire area. A lot of them will work in other places and then return here to retire. We work with folks trying to identify where they might be now and then invite them back to retire here. Some have been gone a long, long time and may not remember it like it was. With our cost of living, low crime rate and relatively low taxes, we are a great place for people to come to or come back to and retire.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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