Poverty and the Elderly

Poverty is one of the many challenges facing our aging population in Appalachia. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand how much need there is for our seniors.  This is due in part to a lack of awareness and in part due to a possibly outdated system of measurement that only shows part of the issue.

The U.S. Census Bureau has a standard method to determine poverty that involves a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition.  The income used to compute the poverty status includes wage earnings, unemployment compensation, Social Security, child support, and other forms of income that is listed at www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/measure.html. The income is measured against the size of the family and the age of the members.  It has been in place since the 1960s.

Its important to note the standard method takes into account only income and not spending.  This does not give a complete and accurate description of what families need to live but it is often cited in stories and reports.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure, also performed by the U.S. Census Bureau, goes past the standard measure of poverty to include data on the cost of basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, utilities, and medicine to help provide an additional indicator of economic well being. The Supplemental Poverty Measure was first utilized in 2011.

According to 2011 findings, the national poverty rates of seniors 65+ by the standard method was 9%, but according to the Supplement Poverty Measure, that number is nearly double at 15%.  (http://www.census.gov/hhes/povmeas/methodology/supplemental/research/Short_ResearchSPM2010.pdf)

A good example of the difference between the two measurements would be if we had a senior who had a Social Security income of $18,000 a year but also had to pay $10,000 a year due to medical conditions.  Under the standard measure, only the $18,000 would be looked at and would keep that individual from falling below the poverty line.  However, under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, the number to determine the threshold would be the remaining $8,000, which would place that individual below the poverty line.

Appalachia has the largest elderly population in the country and it’s growing rapidly. There should be a more wide spread use of the Supplemental Poverty Measure (or similar measure) when conveying the poverty of the elderly.  Showing the spending on necessities for day-to-day living gives a more accurate measure of the hardships our seniors have to endure.

This is the first part of a longer discussion on senior poverty.   Tomorrow we will go more in depth into the actual need and what can be done to help Appalachia.