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half of all elderly Americans will
Study says risk increases for African
Americans, unmarried and undereducated
December 13, 2010
By Jessica Martin
Nearly half of all Americans between the ages of 60 and 90
will encounter at least one year of poverty
or near poverty, says a recent study by Mark
R. Rank, PhD, the Herbert S. Hadley
Professor of Social Work at the Brown School
at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Of course, this risk is not evenly distributed
across the population,” Rank says. “One of
the most drastic economic divides is race.”
Rank found that although 32.7 percent of white
older Americans will experience at least one
year below the official poverty line, the
corresponding percentage for black older
Americans was double that at 64.6 percent.
In addition, for unmarried older Americans, 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.
Rank’s article, “A Life Course Approach to
Understanding Poverty Among Older American
Adults,” is published in the current issue
in Society: The Journal of Contemporary
He used data from the Panel Study of Income
Dynamics (PSID). The PSID is the longest
running longitudinal data set that contains
in-depth information on family demographic
and economic behavior.
The study also looks at the likelihood of asset
poverty and elderly Americans.
“Fifty-eight percent of those between the ages
of 60 and 84 will at some point fail to have
enough liquid assets to allow them to
weather an unanticipated expense or downturn
in income,” he says.
As in the case of income poverty, there is a
sharp dividing line in experiencing asset
poverty by race.
Rank says that there are three reasons to
expect that greater numbers of older
Americans will face periods of
impoverishment across the life course:
Americans are living longer.
The influx of Americans entering their
senior years, coupled with a declining
percentage of workers in the prime
earning years, will put increasing
pressure upon the benefits and
sustainability of the Social Security
and Medicare programs as well as other
social safety nets programs directed at
Economic trends show that Americans have
not been accumulating adequate savings
He says that legislators should consider
policies that encourage greater levels of
savings among the working-age population,
facilitating cooperative living arrangements
among the elderly, establishing fair terms
with respect to reverse mortgage programs,
and strengthening the Social Security and
Supplemental Security Income programs.
“Practitioners working with the elderly and
their families should be aware of the life
course risk for poverty during the senior
years in order to address the overall
well-being of their elderly clients,” Rank
“Given the current demographic and economic
trends in America, this threat is quite
likely to remain in the years ahead.”