Dire NBC: Seniors Forced to Live in Van as Golden Years 'Tarnished'

On the day the government reported a tenth of a point drop in the unemployment rate and two days after news of a second straight quarter of 0.6 percent GDP growth proved the nation is not in a recession, Friday's NBC Nightly News delivered a ridiculously shallow story, based on two anecdotes and a couple of advocates, to prove rising prices are forcing the elderly out of their homes and into vans and soup kitchens. Anchor Brian Williams promised “an interesting look...at the toll that rising prices, of things like gas and food, is taking on Americans living on fixed incomes.” [audio available here]

Chris Jansing [that's her by the van] traveled to Northridge, California, just north of Los Angeles, where she found 82-year-old Betty Weinstein, stunned by a water bill, turning to a second reverse mortgage to stay in her home. But she at least still has a home. Jansing then highlighted an even sadder case:

Rising rents forced Scott and Kate Bishop to move out of this blue house and into their van, sleeping on a mattress in the back.
But it got worse: “And now high food costs have meant, for first time in their lives, the Bishops have gone hungry.” Jansing cited no source for her claims as she asserted: “Soup kitchens and food banks are seeing record numbers of seniors asking for help for the first time in their lives,” but “now donations here are down as middle class donors struggle to feed their own families.

Topping off the story, Jansing featured this from Weinstein: “It's not the golden years anymore, it's the tarnished years.”

A little reality check. Inflation in March, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) stood at 0.9 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For “Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, CA,” the area which includes Northridge, it was at 1 percent.

A Thursday Reuters dispatch about rising food prices actually revealed that, overall, food prices are hardly growing at an astronomical rate:
Consumer food prices normally rise by about 2.5 percent annually, but they increased by 4 percent in 2007, the biggest increase in 17 years. And forecasts for 2008 are pointing to a another rise of 4 percent to 5 percent as retailers pass higher energy and commodity costs to the public.
Let's exaggerate and put it at 10 percent already. That means your $100 trip to the grocery store in 2006 now costs $110. And so that puts you on a mattress in your van? Obviously, the Bishops are not typical.

The pathetic excuse for a news story on the Friday, May 2 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: We have an interesting look tonight at the toll that rising prices, of things like gas and food, is taking on Americans living on fixed incomes. From Los Angeles, our report from NBC's Chris Jansing.

CHRIS JANSING: For 42 years now, Betty Weinstein has called this modest ranch house in Granada Hills, California, home.

BETTY WEINSTEIN: I have a power bill and water bill that shocked me.

JANSING: But rising costs have made it impossible to make ends meet.

WEINSTEIN: Right now, I have in my checking eight dollars.

JANSING: At 82, Betty's looking into a second reverse mortgage so she can stay in her home and still pay her bills. And she's not alone.

JOHN ROTHER, AARP: That's a tragedy all across the country. We certainly hear every day from people who are now thinking that they have to leave the home because of rising energy costs, especially, and rising costs for everything else.

JANSING: Rising rents forced Scott and Kate Bishop to move out of this blue house and into their van, sleeping on a mattress in the back.

SCOTT BISHOP: If you told me this ten years ago, I wouldn't have believed it.

JANSING: And now high food costs have meant, for first time in their lives, the Bishops have gone hungry.

So you literally go without eating?

SCOTT BISHOP: We have, yes.

JANSING: Experts estimate that two-thirds of retirees -- that's tens of millions of seniors -- rely primarily on a fixed income to live and increasingly they're having to make the kinds of tough decisions they never dreamed they'd have to make. Soup kitchens and food banks are seeing record numbers of seniors asking for help for the first time in their lives.

AVA DOWELL, FAMILY WORKS: You see hunger in their face. You see frustration in their face.

JANSING: And now donations here are down as middle class donors struggle to feed their own families. Betty spends hours a week scouring the ads, trying to stretch her food dollars.

WEINSTEIN: It's not the golden years anymore, it's the tarnished years.

JANSING: And Scott and Kate live on the hope that some day they'll have a home again.

SCOTT BISHOP: With her sticking by me, I know we will. Huh, honey?

KATE BISHOP: Yep.

JANSING: For the Bishops, that hope, and each other, are nearly all they have left. Chris Jansing, NBC News, Northridge, California.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center