Economic Insecurity Rates Reveal Alarming Levels of Senior Insecurity, Wide Variation by State, Gender, Race

WOW’s newly released Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans brief series, an analysis of 2013 Census Bureau data, suggests that 49% of US retired seniors live in households which lack incomes required for economic security. WOW’s analysis demonstrates the vulnerability of older adults who live above the poverty line but whose incomes are insufficient to pay for basic needs and protect them from future poverty. These individuals find themselves in a “security gap”—with incomes too high to qualify for many public assistance programs, yet too low to achieve real economic stability.

“When the White House Conference on Aging convenes on July 13th, national attention will be focused on both the contributions and needs of older Americans. Many will be surprised to find out that almost half of our seniors may be just one accident or unexpected expense away from poverty or being unable to stay in their homes,” said WOW President and CEO Amanda Andere. “It is clear that seniors in some states are faring much better than those in other states, and that senior women—particularly senior women of color—are experiencing the most economic insecurity. Remarkably, more than two-thirds of single minority women are suffering insecurity.”

The first brief in the Living Below the Line series, “Insecurity in the States,” ranks states by their Elder Economic Insecurity Rates (EEIRs)—the percentage of independent seniors (65+) living in households with annual incomes that do not allow economic security. EEIRs enable state and local governments to better understand and benchmark the proportions and demographic characteristics of seniors at risk of financial instability or poverty. State EEIRs range widely (from 34% in Wyoming to 57% in Vermont), but in all states more than one-third of elders are at risk of being unable to afford basic needs and age in their own homes.

EEIRs 2015 Brief 1

Brief No. 2, “Women,” demonstrates that nearly half of all fully retired women aged 65 and older who live alone or with an elder spouse have incomes that fall short of economic security. EEIRsare higher for women than for men in every senior subgroup studied. Retired elder men studied report typical annual incomes 71% higher than typical retired elder women’s income ($25,914 compared to $15,718).

EEIRs 2015 Brief 2

Brief No. 3, “Race/Ethnicity.” finds severe levels of economic insecurity among elders of color. The brief reports that while EEIRsare high among seniors of all races and ethnicities, rates for retired seniors of color are particularly high. Among retired elder-only households, 75% of Hispanic-headed households, 70% of African-American-headed households, and 62% of Asian-headed households lack incomes that allow basic economic security.

EEIRs 2015 Brief 3

As the senior population grows, the number of men and women of color retiring into or aging into insecurity or poverty is likely to increase as well.  Federal, state and local governments must learn to recognize the security gap and those who fall into it. They must also consider whether or not their policies contribute to the security of those seniors who live above the poverty line, as they require services and supports that go beyond emergency aid and lead to intermediate- and long-term stability goals. Economic security, rather than “not-poverty,” is the goal to which elders and those who represent and serve them should aspire.

The Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans series can be found at www.wowonline.org. 2014 Elder Index data can be found in WOW’s Economic Security Database.

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