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Poverty Among Older Americans, 2009

Publication Date: January 27, 2011
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About one in three Americans age 65 or older lived in low-income families in 2009, including 8.9 percent in poverty. Poverty rates were much higher among those who did not complete high school, lived alone, or had poor health. This data brief reports how poverty and near-poverty rates among older Americans in 2009 varied by demographics, living arrangements, and health status; shows that poverty and near poverty among seniors declined between 2007 and 2009; and describes income sources for poor and non-poor seniors.

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About one in three Americans 65 years old or older lived in low-income families in 2009, including 8.9 percent in poverty. Poverty is a measure of a family's income compared to the federal poverty level. The 2009 poverty level was $10,289 for a single individual living alone at or over the age of 65, and $12,968 for a couple with at least one older member. This official poverty measure considers only pretax cash income and does not fully capture the out-of-pocket medical expenses that many older adults pay.

How Does Poverty Vary by the Demographic Characteristics of Older Americans?

Of the more than 38 million Americans who were at least 65 years old in 2009, 13 million lived in low-income families, defined as having income less than twice the federal poverty level. Poverty and near-poverty rates increased with age and varied by demographic characteristics.

  • Poverty increased from 8.1 percent among adults 65 to 74 years old to 11.6 percent among adults 85 and older.
  • Near poverty (defined as living in a family with income at or above the federal poverty level but below two times it) increased from about two in ten among adults age 65 to 74 to more than three in ten adults age 85 or older. Women were more likely than men to be living in poverty or near poverty.
  • 10.7 percent of women—2.3 million—were poor and 28.3 percent—6.2 million—were near poor.
  • 6.6 percent of men—1.1 million—were poor and 20.4 percent—3.4 million—were near poor.

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