Despite growing opportunities for older and retired Americans, many are left out.
The incidence of poverty among older Americans has been halved since the early 1960s, but theirs is still the highest poverty rate of any adult age group. One in seven people 65 and older -- among blacks, it's one in four -- lives in poverty, according to a 1983 study.
Another 22 percent of the elderly are classified as near-poor, with incomes less than 25 percent above the poverty line.
Elderly women are much more likely than elderly men to live in poverty. Nearly half of all black women 65 and over are poor.
And retirement has no meaning for those who never found work in the first place. Others, whose jobs provided no pension and benefits to supplement Social Security after age 65, are left financially insecure.
About 80 percent of people over 65 describe their health as "good" or "excellent" compared with others in their age group, but many suffer from a chronic illness, such as arthritis or high blood pressure. Three out of four Americans 65 and older die from heart disease, cancer or stroke.
Older Americans are seven times as likely as young adults (aged 17 to 44) to have a heart condition or high blood pressure, and 10 times as likely to have diabetes or arthritis. About 18 percent of older people report that they can no longer carry on normal activities, because of chronic illness.
"While it is true we're a healthier, more able population," says Wilbur Cohen, former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, "that doesn't mean everybody.
"We shouldn't overlook the people who burn out or die early, the sick, the disabled, the people who can't work."
The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a coalition of more than two dozen groups, worries that in recent years the over-65 generation has overcome one misleading stereotype only to fall prey to another.
The popular perception of older Americans as "frail, poor and vulnerable" has given way to an equally mythical one of "carefree, healthy elders who go forth from their Florida condominiums each day to frolic on the golf course," said the council in its analysis of the Reagan administration's proposed 1986 budget.
The council criticized "devastating" federal cutbacks in food stamps, housing and Medicaid for the most vulnerable older Americans:
"America's elderly, along with other groups least able to protect themselves, have paid a significant price over the last four years for the austerity imposed on federal domestic programs."