Over Half of Elderly in US Live in Poverty, New Data Shows

Americans aged 65 and older are more likely to live in poverty than younger adults

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Americans aged 65 and older are more likely to live in poverty compared to younger adults.

Those between the ages of 35 to 54 are least likely to be in poverty, and according to the Department of Health and Human Services, the average poverty guideline for a single person is $12,880 a year. For a household of four it is $26,500 a year.

Data from the University of Massachusetts at Boston’s Gerontology Institute’s Elder Index records data concerning the cost of health care, food, housing, and transportation. The index shows that currently, 54% of older women who live alone are considered poor by federal poverty standards and are unable to pay for essential living costs, with 45% of single men falling into the same category.

In 2020, data from the Elder Index also showed that more than 2 million older couples were considered economically insecure.

“Any small change in circumstance—rising prices, a medical emergency—can throw an older person’s budget completely out of whack,” said Jan Mutchler, the director of the Gerontology Institute.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in higher rates of unemployment for people over the age of 55 compared to colleagues who were a few years younger—those 55 and up were 17% more likely to become unemployed compared to their younger counterparts, particularly during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time in 50 years that older Americans were experiencing higher rates of unemployment compared to younger workers, according to AARP.

Older Americans were also being rehired at a slower rate compared to younger workers. Those job losses resulted in insecure retirement savings for older Americans.

Inflation has also negatively impacted retired Americans who are living on a fixed income, The Washington Post reported, with 56 million Americans aged 65 and older having to readjust their budget to satisfy a 9% inflation increase.

“Just surviving day to day has become a big concern of mine — because, how in the world?” said Leslie Morgan, 65, a retired teacher who lives in Asheville, N.C. who quit smoking, cut back on groceries and began limiting her hot showers to save money. “Yes, I can afford what I’m doing right now, but I’m starting to panic. I’m starting to think, ‘How am I going to keep paying for everything?’”

Roughly 12% of adults rely wholly on their Social Security, which pays an average of $1,658 per month, and has only increased by a meager $93 since 2021.

A single person in good health, according to the Elder Index, needs $27,096 for basic expenses. That’s $14,100 more than the federal poverty threshold.

“There’s a myth that Social Security and Medicare miraculously take care of all of people’s needs in older age,” said Ramsey Alwin, present and chief executive of the National Council on Aging. “The reality is they don’t, and far too many people are one crisis away from economic insecurity.”

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