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More elderly Americans living poor

The poverty rate among older Americans rose as they aged between 2005 and 2009. The number of new entrants into poverty also increased, according to Time Trends in Poverty for Older Americans Between 2001–2009, by Sudipto Banerjee at the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Of course, the state of the economy matters and it has been dreadful these past few years. The poverty rate fell among almost all age groups from 2001 to 2005 (the economy came out of recession and expanded) while the poverty rate rose from 2005 through 2009 (as the economy slowed and sank into the worst downturn since the 1930s). The numbers aren't surprising. Although terrible for those who sink into poverty, it's also what you would expect.

Some of the other figures are much more disturbing. For example, it's striking how high the poverty rate is for the "oldest old." Almost 15 percent of those older than age 85 were in poverty in 2009, yet the number never falls below 13.7 percent and almost hits 16 percent from 2001 to 2009. "As people age, personal savings and pension account balances are depleted, and as people age, their medical expenditures tend to increase," says Banerjee.


The other number that stood out is the jump in those 50 to 64 -- from 9.5 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2009. The latter figure is where the worst labor market since the 1930s shows up.

A few other highlights:

  • In 2009, the poverty rate for Hispanics was 21 percentage points higher than for whites, while for blacks it was 17 percentage points higher than for whites.
  • Poverty rates for women were nearly double that of men. 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 odds of suffering a health condition (acute or otherwise) goes up 45-55 percent for those below the poverty line.

Figures like these are why I think the social safety net needs strengthening.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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