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Poverty

Over 3.9 million elderly persons (9.1%) were below the poverty level in 2012. This poverty rate is statistically different from the poverty rate in 2011 (8.7%). Another 2.4 million or 5.5% of the elderly were classified as "near-poor" (income between the poverty level and 125% of this level).

Just over 2.3 million older Whites (not Hispanic) (6.8%) were poor in 2012, compared to 18.2% of elderly African-Americans, 12.3% of Asians, and 20.6% of elderly Hispanics. Higher than average poverty rates were found in 2012 for older persons who lived inside principal cities (12.5%) and in the South (10.2%).

Older women had a higher poverty rate (11%) than older men (6.6%) in 2012. Older persons living alone were much more likely to be poor (16.8%) than were older persons living with families (5.4%). The highest poverty rates were experienced among older Hispanic women (41.6%) who lived alone and also by older Black women (33%) who lived alone.

In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau released a new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM methodology shows a significantly higher number of older persons below poverty than is shown by the official poverty measure. For persons 65 and older this poverty measure shows a poverty level of 14.8% in 2012 (more than 5 percentage points higher than the official rate of 9.1%). Unlike the official poverty rate, the SPM takes into account regional variations in the cost of housing etc. and, even more significantly, the impact of both non-cash benefits received (e.g., SNAP/food stamps, low income tax credits, WIC, etc.) and non-discretionary expenditures including medical out-of-pocket (MOOP) expenses. For persons 65 and over, MOOP was the major source of the significant differences between these measures. Bear in mind that the SPM does not replace the official poverty measure.


Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement; "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012," P60 245, issued September, 2013; and “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2012,” P60-247, issued November 2013.

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