Poverty Increased Among Seniors in 2021

People 65 and older experienced an increase in poverty in 2021, according to the official poverty measure from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Bureau recently highlighted data from its Poverty in the United States: 2021 report originally released in September 2022 as the nation prepares to observe Poverty Awareness Month in the United States this January 2023.

The official poverty rate in 2021 was 11.6%, with 37.9 million people in poverty, according to the Bureau's official poverty measure. Neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty changed significantly from the previous year, according to the report.

Despite an increase in poverty rates for 65-year-olds and older, the rates decreased for 18 to 64-year-olds and were not statistically different among 18- to 64-year-olds. Still, the majority of the demographic groups discussed in the report did not experience significant changes in their poverty rates between 2020 and 2021.

In 2021, the supplemental poverty measure rate was 7.8%, down 1.4 percentage points from 2020. It is the lowest rate since estimates were first released and the third decline in a row.

The supplemental poverty measure child poverty rate fell 46% in 2021, from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021, a 4.5 percentage-point decline.

Family resources and expenses that are not included in the official poverty measure, as well as geographical variation, are considered in the supplemental poverty measure. Based on the size of the family and the ages of its members, the official poverty rate is calculated by comparing an individual's or family's pretax cash income to a set of thresholds. In-kind benefits, such as nutrition assistance or energy and housing programs, are not taken into account. Living costs and expenses, such as housing, are not taken into account.

Based on thresholds developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Division of Price and Index Number Research, the supplemental poverty measure is calculated on basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and utilities. These thresholds are adjusted for differences in housing costs based on geographical location.

"People working at minimum wage, even holding down multiple jobs," seniors living on a fixed income, and wage earners suddenly out of work can find themselves in poverty," according to the nonprofit Catholic charity Poverty USAThe federal government defines poverty for a family of four, for example, as living below roughly $25,700. 

And poverty, according to the charitable group, doesn't treat all demographics equally. Just a few years ago, poverty rates were different. 

In 2018, the charitable organization pulled data from the U.S. Census Bureau's official poverty rates. Though the official census data gave seniors a poverty rate that year of 9.7%, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which accounts for expenses such as the rising cost of health care, raised the senior poverty rate to 14.1%. 

That year, 16.2% of children were in poverty, accounting for nearly 1 in every 6 children, according to the Catholic charity. 

In 2018, more women (12.9%) lived in poverty than men (10.6%) in the U.S. Among married couples, the poverty rate that year was 4.7% while the poverty rate for single-parent families with no wife present was 12.7%, and 24.9% for single-parent families with no husband present. 

The 2018 poverty rate for people living with a disability was 25.7%. According to Poverty USA, that's nearly 4 million people living with a disability in poverty. 

In 2018, 25.4% of Native Americans lived in poverty compared to 20.8% of Blacks, 17.6% of Hispanics, 10.1% of Whites, and 10.1% of Asians. 

According to the Heartland Alliance, Poverty in America Awareness Month brings attention to the struggles Americans face to find food, housing, healthcare, education and job opportunities. The nonprofit service provider advocates for social, economic, and racial justice.


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