Magazine

UpFront | Published in June 2012

Below the Line

Rate of poverty among seniors increased

By Rebecca Moore | June 2012

Between 2005 and 2009, the rate of poverty among American seniors rose as they aged. The number of new entrants into poverty also increased during this time, according to a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). Poverty rates fell in the first half of the last decade for almost all older Americans (ages 50-plus), though they increased since 2005 for every age group.   

Poverty rates, as defined by U.S. Census poverty thresholds, were highest for the oldest of the elderly. Almost 15% of those over age 85 were in poverty in 2009, compared with approximately 10.5% of those older than 65, EBRI found. Additionally, in 2009, 6% of those aged 85 or older were new entrants to poverty.   

According to Sudipto Banerjee, author of the report and EBRI research associate, “As people age, personal savings and pension account balances are depleted and ...  their medical expenditures tend to increase. Also, the rising poverty rates noted correspond to the two economic recessions that occurred during the last decade.”

The EBRI analysis also found: In 2009, the poverty rate for Hispanics was 21% higher than for whites, while for blacks it was 17% higher than for whites; poverty rates for women were nearly double those for men, for almost all years in the survey period (in 2009, for instance, poverty rates were 7% for men and 13% for women); more than one in five (20.9%) single women over age 65 lived in poverty in 2009; and the odds of developing a health condition—acute or otherwise—increases from 45% to 55% for those below the poverty line.

The data for the study came from the University of Michigan’s “Health and Retirement Study” (HRS), which was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA). EBRI’s full report, “Time Trends in Poverty for Older Americans Between 2001–2009,” was published in its April Notes.

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