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How Many Seniors Are Living in Poverty? National and State Estimates Under the Official and Supplemental Poverty Measures in 2016

Payments from Social Security and Supplemental Security Income have played a critical role in enhancing economic security and reducing poverty rates among people ages 65 and older. Yet many older adults live on limited incomes and have modest savings. In 2016, half of all people on Medicare had incomes less than $26,200. This analysis provides current data on poverty rates among the 49.3 million seniors in the U.S. in 2016, as context for understanding the implications of potential changes to federal and state programs that help to bolster financial security among older adults.

The. U.S. Census Bureau currently reports two different measures of poverty: the official poverty measure and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). Unlike the official poverty measure, the SPM reflects available financial resources and liabilities, including taxes, the value of in-kind benefits (e.g., food stamps), and out-of-pocket medical spending (generally higher among older adults), and geographic variations in housing costs. This analysis presents national and state estimates of poverty under both measures for adults ages 65 and older. Current estimates of poverty based on the SPM indicate that the share (and number) of older adults who are struggling financially is larger than is conveyed by the official poverty measure.

Key Findings

  • Under the SPM, 7.1 million adults ages 65 and older lived in poverty in 2016 (14.5%), compared to 4.6 million (9.3%) under the official poverty measure (Figure 1).
  • Nearly 21 million people ages 65 and older had incomes below 200% of poverty under the SPM in 2016 (42.4%), compared to 15 million (30.4%) under the official measure.
  • Under both the official measure and the SPM, the poverty rate among people ages 65 and older increased with age and was higher for women, blacks and Hispanics, and people in relatively poor health.
  • Under the SPM, 4.4 million older women lived in poverty in 2016, 1.5 million more than under the official measure; 2.8 million older men lived in poverty under the SPM, 1.1 million more than under the official measure.
  • Under the SPM, at least 15% of people ages 65 and older lived in poverty in 10 states (CA, FL, GA, HI, IN, LA, NJ, NM, TX, and VA) plus Washington, D.C. in 2016; under the official poverty measure, only D.C. had a poverty rate above 15% for older adults in 2016.

Figure 1: More than 7 million people ages 65 and older had incomes below poverty in 2016, based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure, 2.6 million more than under the official poverty measure

Data Note

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