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Poverty More Likely As Adults Age

Our fears about outliving our savings could become a reality if we live long enough.

According to  a new report,  about 11 percent of  adults older than 65 lived in poverty in 2009, the latest year studied. But by age 85 and up, that figure rose to nearly 15 percent. Getting by on the bare minimum proved to be a greater struggle for those ages 50 to 64 as well. Poverty rates rose to more than 12 percent in 2009 from just under 10 percent in 2007.

The  Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) report examined poverty rates from 2005 through 2009 based on data from the University of Michigan's Health and Retirement Study, a comprehensive survey of older Americans.

For 2012, federal guidelines listed $11,170 or less in annual income for a single person, and $15,130 or less for a couple, as living in  poverty. 

Sudipto Banerjee, author of the EBRI study, says the death of a spouse, and the corresponding loss of a Social Security payment, accounts for some of the economic hardship faced by older adults. But there are other factors as well.

"As people age, personal savings and pension account balances are depleted . . . and their medical expenditures tend to increase," Banerjee says.

Among the report's other findings:

  • Hispanics and blacks (21 percent and 17 percent respectively) had higher rates of poverty than whites in 2009
  • Poverty rates for women were about double that of men for just about every year in the last decade
  • More than one in 5 single women over age 65 lived in poverty in 2009

If you are an older adult struggling to make ends meet, an AARP Foundation guide may be able to help you find public assistance.

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