There was good news in the Census Bureau’s poverty report for most age groups in America. The data revealed one concerning trend, however: rising poverty among older Americans.
“Individuals ages 65 and older had the unique distinction of being the only population segment to experience a significant increase in the number of individuals in poverty, with 367,000 more older Americans in poverty in 2016,” wrote Ashley Edwards, Adam Bee, and Liana Fox of the Census’ Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division in an analysis of the latest Census report.
The national poverty rate declined by 0.8 percentage points to 12.7%, the broader survey showed. Poverty rates, while still the highest among wealthy nations, fell across the board for groups including whites, blacks, Hispanics, males, females, children, American citizens and immigrants.
Why the reversal of fortunes for the elderly?
Part of the trend “could be explained by the ageing of the baby boom generation, which contributed to faster population growth in the population ages 65 and over in 2016 compared with the overall population,” the experts suggest. “Population growth alone would lead to increases in the number of older Americans both in and out of poverty.”
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Issues like inadequate safety nets, elevated healthcare costs and longer lifespans are also playing a role.
“Among older Americans living alone (or with nonrelatives), increases in the number of individuals in poverty outpaced their population growth, leading to statistically significant increases in their poverty rate from 16.0% in 2015 to 18.1% in 2016,” the Census analysis found.
In addition, Americans 65 and older were the only demographic group where the proportion of individuals with income below 50% of their poverty threshold — another key measure known as the supplemental poverty rate — increased, to 3.3% in 2016 from 2.8% the year prior.
“While the change in the official poverty rate among those ages 65 and older was not statistically significant, the supplemental poverty rate for older adults increased by 0.8 percentage points in 2016,” the report said. The share of individuals ages 65 and older with resources below half their supplemental poverty threshold also spiked, from 4.5% in 2015 to 5.2% in 2016.