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Are Elderly Poverty Rates Actually Higher?

By Neetal Parekh on September 08, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There have been countless changes in the economy, health care, and cost of living over the past half-century.  So it may not make sense to use a government equation formulated in 1955 to determine the country's rate of elder poverty.

Outdated formula

The National Academy of Science (NAS) has raised an eyebrow to the existing formula used to calculate poverty of Americans 65 and older.  In fact it devised its own, with startling results.  The government's projection of poverty rate of Americans 65 or older is 9.7% or 3.6 million whereas the NAS calculation suggests that the number is closer to double that, 18.6% or 6.8 million people.

The NAS  argues that the 1955 formula fails to account for rising costs of medical care, everyday costs, and necessities beyond food.  And it is gaining support, even from the Obama Administration.

Medicare Effect

With the country focused acutely on health care reform, how will the NAS figures affect estimations on Medicare costs?  The numbers will likely signal the inability of the current system to meet the needs of older Americans.  It may bring the Baby-Boomer and post-Baby-Boomer groups squarely into the health care reform debate, giving them even greater reason to become informed and form an opinion on the versions of the health care bill in the House and Senate. 

Whatever is the effect, the numbers signify an important recalibration of our understanding of the health and well-being of older Americans.

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