Poverty is on the rise among the oldest Americans. The number of people 65 and older who were experiencing poverty increased by nearly 1 million between 2020 and 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That brought the total to nearly 6 million people in that age group living in poverty. The increase is particularly troubling because that 65+ group was the only age group to see the numbers of people living in poverty increase.
What would it take to eliminate poverty among older Americans and in the nation overall? The solutions might be closer than they would seem, according to Matthew Desmond, author of the new best-selling book “Poverty, By America.” Desmond, a sociology professor at Princeton University who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” recently met with AARP Foundation staff to discuss ways to address poverty. He also answered questions about older Americans and poverty in an exclusive interview with AARP.
The following excerpts from that interview have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
What are some of the reasons that poverty has slightly increased among older Americans in recent years?
Desmond: The question about the increases in elderly poverty that we’ve been seeing in recent years is still unresolved, and I think it’s really an issue of great importance that we need to get to the bottom of.
One thing that’s driving the increase, according to the supplemental poverty measure, is the rise of medical costs. If you don’t take into account the rise of health care and medical costs, things look much better than they are in reality for a lot of elderly Americans.