May 21, 2013
The number of seniors living in poverty across the US is much higher than official figures suggest, says a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, with the rate twice that shown by US Census figures in twelve states.
Released on Tuesday, the analysis by Kaiser also predicts that these troubling poverty rates will spike further in the next few years if proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security are pushed through.
Kaiser's alternative reading of the 2011 Census data--utilizing an index called the "supplemental measure" which examines health spending and cost of living differences from state to state--found a staggering 1 in 7 seniors now live in poverty.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports:
The share of seniors living in poverty is higher in every state under the supplemental measure than under the official measure, and at least twice as high in 12 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The share of seniors living in poverty under the supplemental measure is especially high in some areas. Based on the supplemental measure, about one in four seniors (26%) are living in poverty in DC and roughly one in five seniors are living in poverty in six states: California (20%); Hawaii, Louisiana, and Nevada (19%), and Georgia and New York (18%).
According to Kaiser's analysis, nearly half of all seniors (48%) live with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold using the supplemental measure, compared to 34 percent under the official measure.
And the senior poverty rate is expected to increase sharply, Kaiser warns, if proposed Medicare and Social Security reforms are pushed through.
"During recent deficit reduction discussions, policymakers have debated whether to increase Medicare beneficiaries' contributions toward their medical care and reduce the cost of living adjustment to Social Security benefits," Kaiser reports. "Having a clear picture of the extent of poverty among seniors, both nationally and at the state level, is important in the context of these debates."
The Kaiser brief says it's meant to provide context for the many spending proposals being tossed around -- particularly those that focus on shifting costs in Medicare and paring down Social Security benefits.
It also notes that adopting "chained CPI," which slows the growth of Social Security benefits, would most likely make for higher poverty rates for older seniors across both census measures.
What the analysis utimately shows, concludes Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post, is
that we're a far ways from achieving the goal of Social Security, of, in FDR's words, ensuring no one must "spend one's aged years in the poor house." One possible route for avoiding these cases came in a paper by the New America Foundation's Michael Lind, Steven Hill, Robert Hiltonsmith and Joshua Freedman last month, who proposed adding a $11,699 flat annual benefit for all retired workers on top of existing Social Security benefits.
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