The poverty rate for Americans age 65 and older has seen a sharp decline since 1959, when one-third of older adults lived in poverty. Still, a large number of older people are poor. In 2019, about 4.9 million people age 65 and older—8.9 percent—had an annual income below the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold. Among people of this age group, women, people from historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups, and people living alone are more likely than others to live in poverty.
When seniors struggle to meet their basic needs, they are at greater risk of being affected by preventable or treatable health conditions. These include diabetes, congestive heart failure, heart attack, and depression. Senior poverty also can have a substantial impact on social connectedness, leading to isolation. Research indicates that isolation and loneliness may cause dramatic decreases in physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life.
This chapter outlines key components of low-income assistance, including income and nutrition assistance programs, access to social supports, and access to basic necessities. Policies related to poverty can also be found in other sections of the Policy Book.