Shades of Gray: Poverty and Seniors in Minnesota
In the early 1970s, 25% of senior citizens lived in poverty. That has improved markedly, thanks in large part to Social Security and Medicare. Today, about 1 in 13 Twin Cities seniors live in poverty and 1 in 4 are at or below 200% of poverty. These numbers, however, mask some large racial disparities:
While 6% of white seniors are living in poverty, nearly 1 in 3 African Americans (31%) and American Indians (30%) live in poverty, as do 1 in 5 Asian/Pacific Islanders (22%) and Hispanic/Latinos (20%).
Elder poverty rates would be much higher were it not for Social Security. In 2008, about 10% of the senior population lived in poverty nationally. That would jump to 45% without Social Security. Looking just at older women (who are more likely to live in poverty than older men), 12% were living in poverty in 2008. Without Social Security, fully half of older women would be living in poverty. These are just a few of the findings reported in our most recent briefing paper, focusing on seniors and poverty.
One thing that really surprised me when I was doing research for the Faces of Poverty 2012 report is that poverty thresholds are higher for seniors than they are for the rest of the population, based on the assumption that seniors need less cash income (and less food) to meet basic needs. For example, in 2011, the poverty threshold for a single person under 65 years of age was $11,702 while for a person age 65 or older, it was nearly a thousand dollars lower, at $10,788. Now seniors may need less food, but they have much higher medical expenses than younger folks, including needs for many things not covered by Medicare, like hearing aids and eyeglasses and dentures. Even for things that are covered, Medicare does not usually pay 100% of the cost. Just like most of the rest of us, seniors also have to pay deductibles and co-pays. Alternative poverty measures that account for out-of-pocket health care costs indicate poverty rates much higher (on the order of 17%-89%) than the official rate, depending on the subgroup (e.g., men, women, elders of color, those 85+).
Why does this matter? Well, it matters because seniors are part of our community. They’re our neighbors, our parents, our grandparents. And they are one of the fastest growing segments of our community. Between 2000 and 2030, Minnesota’s 65+ population is expected to grow from just under 600,000 to about 1,300,000—an increase of 119%. In that same time period, the overall population is expected to increase by about 28%. This is a huge demographic shift!
Read the brief here. I would look forward to your observations and comments!