More Americans find aging is a gateway to poverty

April 27, 2012

Over the last several years, more Americans have found that aging has left them in the clutch of poverty. Between 2005 and 2009, the rate of poverty among American seniors rose as they aged, as did the number of people entering poverty, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Poverty rates fell in the first half of the last decade for almost all age groups of older Americans (defined as age 50 or older) but increased since 2005 for every age group. Says Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and author of the report:

As people age, personal savings and pension account balances are depleted, and as people age, their medical expenditures tend to increase.

Compounding the problem, the odds of suffering a health condition – acute or otherwise – goes up 45-55 percent for those below the poverty line, he said.

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

The rising poverty rates also correspond to the two economic recessions that occurred during the last decade.

Poverty rates for women were nearly double that of men for almost all years in the survey period. For example, in 2009, poverty rates were 7 percent for men and 13 percent for women. More than 1 in 5 (20.9 percent) single women over age 65 lived in poverty in 2009. The EBRI report found that in 2009, the poverty rate for Hispanics was 21 percentage points higher than for whites. For blacks it was 17 percentage points higher than for whites.

Data for the study came from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the most comprehensive national survey of older Americans.

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