Spotlight Exclusives

Elder Poverty: What Will Happen in Act II?

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The curtain is rising on the economic fragility of our nation۪s elders. Recent reports underscore how an inadequate safety net has left too many seniors vulnerable to poverty.

It has long been understood that a fundamental achievement of our Social Security Act is that it provided a safety net for seniorsparticularly since amendments to the Act were added in the 60s and 70s. Indeed, in 1959, about 35 percent of persons age 65 and older had poverty incomes; by 2006, the rate had fallen to about 9 percent. While that achievement is to be celebrated, new findings demonstrate that too many elders hover just above the official poverty line; that their assets are inadequate to address emergencies; and that older workers face different and difficult labor market outcomes in a recession. The result is long stretches of unemployment. And, largely because of the demographics of a growing senior population, we are likely to see more homelessness among this population.

The Great Recession has caused disturbing rates of long-term unemployment among seniors, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. It found that while workers 55 or older are less likely to become unemployed, those who do lose their jobs are more likely to stay unemployed for a long period of time. Nearly 30 percent of unemployed people 55 or older have been jobless for a year or longera higher rate than any other age group.

While work does not prevent all poverty, income from a job is important for elders. As noted by an AARP study:

Among persons age 50 to 64 living in poverty, only one-quarter are in the workforce. More than three-quarters of people in this age group with incomes at or above twice the poverty level are in the workforce.

And, as the elder population grows, it is projected that the economic fragility faced by poor elders will put more seniors on the streets and in need of shelter.The National Alliance to End Homelessness projects:

Homelessness among the elderly population will increase by 33 percent by 2020, and more than double by 2050.

As the curtain comes up, let us hope that policy makers will write a second act that matches the achievements of the first.

Posted by Jodie


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