Despite a sharp decline in the poverty rate for Americans age 65 and older since 1959—when one-third of older adults lived in poverty—a large number of older people are poor. In 2015 about 4.2 million (8.8 percent) of the nation’s older adults had an annual income below the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold. That same year almost 15 million people age 65 and older (31 percent of that population) had low incomes (i.e., below 200 percent of the federal poverty line). In fact, although older adults are less likely than younger people to live in poverty, they are more likely than people 18 to 64 to have an income below 200 percent of the poverty line (Figure 6-1).
Poverty afflicts older women more than older men. Lower salaries, savings, and pensions play a role in higher poverty rates among women. Also, divorce or the death of a spouse can make poverty among older women more likely. Finally, since women tend to live longer than men, they are more likely to drain their financial resources later in life.
In addition to women, people from racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination, and older people who live alone are more likely to be low-income than other older adults (Figure 6-2).