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Study: Half of Seniors at Risk for Poverty

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Here’s one big reason congressional Republicans and the deficit hawks are dead wrong about cutting Social Security benefits: According to a new study, nearly half  (47.4 percent) of all Americans between the ages of 60 and 90 will experience at least one year of poverty or near poverty and seniors of color are twice as likely to be affected.

The study by Mark Rank, a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, shows that 58 percent of seniors between 60 and 84 will at some point not have enough liquid assets to allow them to weather an unanticipated expense or downturn in income.

But if you are a senior who is black or unmarried or have less than a high school education, the likelihood that you will be poor at some point increases dramatically. Rank found that although 32.7 percent of white older Americans will experience at least one year below the official poverty line, the percentage for black older Americans was nearly double” 64.6 percent.

For unmarried seniors, the percentage experiencing poverty was 51.2 percent compared with 24.9 percent for married older Americans. Likewise, for those with fewer than 12 years of education, the percentage experiencing poverty was 48.4 percent compared with 20.5 percent for those with 12 or more years of education.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), has said:

Safeguarding Social Security is more imperative now than ever. Social Security keeps 20 million Americans out of poverty—many of whom are people of color. As we move into the 112th Congress…we must work together to ensure that Social Security remains intact and solvent for generations to come.

Most American agree. In a new poll, more than eight in 10 likely voters across the political spectrum say they oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the national deficit.

Rank says we can expect greater numbers of seniors will face periods of poverty because Americans are living longer, there are fewer workers in the prime earning years and Americans have not been saving enough for retirement.

He recommends that legislators consider policies that encourage greater levels of savings among the working-age population, facilitating cooperative living arrangements among the elderly and strengthening the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs.

You can read Rank’s article, “A Life Course Approach to Understanding Poverty Among Older American Adults,” in the current issue of “Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services” here (subscription required).


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