Skip to content

Older Americans Helped by Safety Net

Total population in poverty hits historic high, Census report says

En español | While unemployment and underemployment are pushing more Americans into poverty, government safety net programs are providing relief to those 65 and older.

According to a U.S. Census report (PDF) released Tuesday, the number of Americans living in poverty last year reached an all-time high — 46.2 million people or 15.1 percent of the population.

See also: Hungry in America: What we can do.

For adults ages 18 to 64, the poverty rate hit 13.7 percent in 2010, up from 12.9 percent in 2009.

But for those 65 and older, the rate stayed flat at about 9 percent.

"I think this speaks volumes about the success of Social Security and Medicare and how vital these programs are to the economic well-being of those 65 and older," said Gary Koenig, AARP director of economic security.

Seizing a lifeline

"Some workers who are having trouble maintaining their jobs are using their Social Security as a lifeline to provide much-needed income," Koenig said, noting that early access begins at 62.

"It's not that they are looking for benefits. Their main concern is finding a job or keeping the job they have and covering expenses for the next week, the next month and the next year."

Those 65 and older fared better when it came to household income. The Census report noted that since 2007, the median household income has fallen 6.4 percent for all age groups except those 65 and older, which saw an increase of 5.5 percent.

Americans 65-plus are also more likely to have health insurance, mainly because they are eligible for Medicare. Only 2 percent of Americans 65 or older were uninsured in 2010, compared with 16.3 percent of people 45 to 64 and 21.8 percent of those 35 to 44.

More findings

The Census report, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010," also found:

  • The Northeast and the Midwest had the lowest uninsured rates in 2010.
  • The proportion of the foreign-born population without health insurance in 2010 was about 2 1/2 times that of the native born.
  • In spring 2011, 5.9 million young adults ages 25 to 34 (14.2 percent) resided in their parents' households, compared with 4.7 million (11.8 percent) before the recession.

  • Since 2007, the number of full-time male employees who worked year-round decreased by 6.6 million, while the number of fully employed women declined by 2.8 million.

  • Of all full-time employees who worked year-round in 2010, women earned 77 percent of what men earned.

Also of interest: Low-income assistance. >>

Brooke Self is an intern at the AARP Bulletin.