N.Y. Times, Oct. 6, 2013
By the Editorial Board
The basic outlines of poverty in America are sadly familiar. At last count, 46.5 million people were poor — 15 percent of the population. Women and children, especially in single-mother families, were, as always, hit hardest.
Another group, people 65 and older, now seems vulnerable as well. In analyzing the recent Census Bureau report on poverty, researchers at the National Women’s Law Center foundthat from 2011 to 2012, the rate of extreme poverty rose by a statistically significant amount among those 65 and older, meaning that a growing number of them were living at or below 50 percent of the poverty line. In 2012, this was $11,011 a year for an older person living alone.
An additional 135,000 older women became extremely poor in 2012, raising the extreme-poverty rate in that group to 3.1 percent, And 100,000 older men were extremely poor in 2012, raising the extreme-poverty rate in that group to 2.3 percent In all, nearly 1.2 million people age 65 and up were classified as extremely poor in 2012.
The increase in extreme poverty requires utmost attention. For the most part, Social Security has protected older Americans from poverty. In cases where older people are poor, the afflicted often have been very old women, who have long outlived their spouses and any nest egg.
In the law center’s research, however, the increase in extreme poverty was concentrated in the 65-to-75 age group. Some of them could be among the long-term unemployed, whose jobless benefits have been cut or run out. Or they might be people who would generally qualify for public assistance in addition to Social Security but are having trouble getting those benefits in the face of administrative cutbacks at the state and federal levels.
The numbers alone don’t say why extreme poverty has risen or whether the rise will be lasting or fleeting. But other data echo the law center’s findings. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which tracks a larger sample than in its poverty report, shows an increase in poverty among those 65 and older, from 9.0 percent in 2010 to 9.3 percent in 2011 and 9.5 percent in 2012. That is not a record; poverty rates for that group have reached 9.9 percent
But it would be devastating if recent increases became a growing trend. For now, the best policy response is to do no harm. For example, budget proposals to cut Social Security’s cost-of-living benefit, ill advised in any case, would be especially unwise and untimely.
N.Y. Times, Oct. 6, 2013