WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the AARP Public Policy Institute released the report, “Older Americans in Poverty: A Snapshot,” which offers insights into challenges facing older adults in poverty, particularly in terms of affordability of basic needs. The report, which includes official federal and state data from 2008—the latest data available—shows that poverty among the aged 65 and older population remains a serious and persistent problem in the United States. Because more recent data is not yet available, the full impact of the recession on older Americans living in poverty is unknown.
The report found that 3.7 million older adults in this nation are not able to meet their basic expenses every day. Another 10 million adults age 65 and older are “low income”, which is defined as having family income above poverty but below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($20,652 for an individual or $26,028 for a couple).
“Poverty is widespread across the nation and it has been persistent even in a growing economy” said John Rother, AARP Executive Vice President for Policy and Strategy. “Even with Social Security and other important federal benefits, there are too many older Americans today who are struggling to afford life’s basic necessities.”
Analysis of the data found that the face of poverty for older Americans is largely female, people over the age of 85, African American or Hispanic, and not married. One in five older adults (20%) who are African American or Hispanic are in poverty, compared to 7.6% of whites. Women, widows, people who are divorced, separated or never married, and people living alone are more likely to be affected by poverty. In addition, the likelihood that an older woman will live in poverty rises substantially with age: 10.6% of women aged 65 to 74 were poor in 2008 compared with 15.1% for women aged 85 and older.
SOCIAL SECURITY SERVES AS LIFELINE FOR MILLIONS IN POVERTY
Social Security is the largest source of income for older adults in poverty, with 59% of these individuals depending on Social Security for all or nearly all of their family income. Most older adults in poverty have few financial assets, with only 16.5 % of poor older adults having any savings in a retirement account. The home remains the largest asset for retirement security outside of Social Security. Only 7.5% of older families in poverty derived income from earnings and only 7.8% from pensions.
“Social Security lifts more than a third of our nation’s elderly out of poverty,” said Rother. “Strengthening and preserving the program is of utmost importance for all Americans, but especially for millions of older adults who must rely on the benefits for their financial survival.”
HEALTH CARE REMAINS UNAFFORDABLE BURDEN
The report found that adults aged 65 and older in poverty face tremendous burdens meeting basic expenses for health care. Even with health care coverage through Medicare, health care costs remain unaffordable—nearly half (48.8%) of poor and low-income older adults had health expenses exceeding 20% of family income.
The report found a strong correlation between poverty and poor health, with older adults in poverty having more chronic and disabling health conditions than those not in poverty:
* Nearly twice the number of older adults below the poverty line report being in poor health than the general elderly population (21% vs. 11%).
* More than half (53.2%) of older adults in poverty reported a disability of some kind in 2008, compared to about a third (36.5%) of those not in poverty.
* Older adults in poverty are nearly twice as likely as those not in poverty to have a limitation in their ability to live independently (28.4% vs. 15.9%).
“Poverty can be a vicious cycle for millions of Americans—the poor cannot afford proper care, and when they get sick, paying for what care they receive can damage their remaining economic security” said Rother.
ADEQUACY OF POVERTY MEASURES EXPLORED
The AARP Public Policy Institute report explored the adequacy of the official U.S. poverty measure, which has been in use for forty years, and found that this measure does an increasingly inadequate job of measuring the extent of poverty among older adults.
“Reducing poverty among older adults is a key priority for AARP,” said Rother. “To fight poverty, we need measures that accurately show who is in need, and what programs are most effective in helping them.”
AARP RESOURCES AVAILABLE
Many adults in poverty do not benefit from programs that could supplement their limited incomes to make food, housing, utilities, health care and other necessities more affordable. AARP and the AARP Foundation offer free online resources, publications, and information to connect older adults and their families with programs that provide assistance—available at www.aarp.org/realrelief. These include AARP Real Relief, which offers a wide range of tools to help people look for work and manage finances; Benefits QuickLink, which provides information and an online screening tool on qualifications for public benefits programs that help cover the costs of food, utilities, health care, and medicine; and Public Benefits state fact sheets, which list contacts and application processes by state for important free and low cost programs for older adults with limited incomes.
For more information or to view the complete survey, visit www.aarp.org/ppi or contact AARP Media Relations at 202-434-2560.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.7 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website, AARP.org. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.