The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty brings a welcome and much-needed debate about how best to eradicate poverty in the world’s wealthiest country. Unfortunately, few commentators focus on how poverty impacts the lives of the nation’s older adults — but they should.
There are approximately 6.5 million people age 65 and over living in poverty in America today — a number that is too high and, unfortunately, only growing. That’s 6.5 million of our mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers that struggle daily to afford food and rent, to access needed health care and long-term services and supports, to remain connected to their families and active in their communities. Older adults who are poor deserve special attention and we should unite to reduce their numbers.
Looking more closely, the story of senior poverty in this country provides three valuable lessons.
1. Government safety net programs can work. The government safety net for older adults is by and large a success story. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have dramatically reduced the official federal poverty rate for seniors from 35 percent in 1960 to nine percent in 2011. Social Security alone lifted 22 million people out of poverty in 2012. Without Social Security, nearly half of all seniors would be poor.