A Sobering Look at Senior Poverty

April 23, 2017


We’ve explored in these pages various financial challenges facing our elder population, like student debt and struggles managing personal finances. But perhaps the most sobering threat to senior wellbeing is the issue of senior poverty, a phenomenon that is growing in this country. 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, joining over 100 million people 50 and over. That’s a significant segment of our population that’s living longer, many of whom are facing shrinking income potential and lack of financial reserves, along with shifting funding priorities on a federal level. The numbers coming out of the recent Aging in America Conference paint a dire picture:

  • An estimated 6.4 older Americans live at or below the poverty level of $11,800 per year. The odds increase dramatically for women, minorities, and those in poor health.
  • By 2020, senior homelessness will increase 33%; by 2050 it will increase 100%.
  • By the year 2030, roughly 72 million seniors will be living in poverty.

Why is this happening? We mentioned the factors of declining income and uncertainty around federal support programs, but there’s also the issue of savings. A staggering one third of Americans in a recent survey reported they’d saved nothing for retirement – whether because of falling behind on debt payments, fallout from the 2007 financial crisis, or health or employment struggles. Which means that more elder Americans are relying on Social Security, paying them on average $1,300 per month  – not even close to what most seniors need to cover the basics of housing, food, and medical expenses.

What can you do to help? If you know someone struggling, there are excellent resources out there dedicated to helping seniors living in poverty or struggling to avoid it:

  • The Senior Community Service Employment Program from the National Council on Aging provides job training and search assistance for adults 55+ looking to remain actively employed or return to the workforce.
  • Also from the NCOA, the Economic Check-up is an online resource that helps seniors find work, manage spending, leverage their home equity, and reduce debt.
  • Justice in Aging is a non-profit dedicated to advocating for legal access to senior safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They especially focus on populations who typically lack access to proper legal protection, such as immigrants and people of color.
  • The high cost of prescription medication is a significant challenge for many seniors. RxAssist helps seniors connect with free and low-cost medication payment programs, as well as offering helpful advice on lowering prescription drug costs.

Want more information? The AARP maintains a comprehensive and up-to-date list of state and federal organizations who are ready to help.