Poverty continues to impact 1 in 5 North Carolinians, according to 2012 Census Bureau Data released last week. The extent of poverty would be far greater without the safety net and work supports, however. This post is part of a blog series that will explain how the new poverty data demonstrates the important role public programs play and the need for continued support. For the first post on the role of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program click here.
The numbers released by the US Census last week tell a grim tale of economic hardship in North Carolina. Stagnating household incomes and persistently high unemployment are driving continued increases in poverty since 2010 despite an official economic recovery. For older North Carolinians, economic insecurity persists. In 2012, one in ten North Carolinians aged 65 or older were living in poverty or 10 percent. But for Social Security income that figure would likely be much higher.
Today, Social Security is the primary income for most North Carolinians. For one-third of older North Carolinians, Social Security is the only source of income. Nationally, about 80 percent of African Americans and Hispanics depend on social security as their primary source of retirement income.
The US Census Bureau reported that 15.3 million Americans were lifted out of poverty by Social Security. Social Security was established to provide older Americans with a more secure retirement recognizing that too many seniors were living out their final years in destitution. And while it has clearly been successful along with other policies at reducing elder poverty, the reality is that health care and other costs still leave many seniors in poverty or vulnerable to hardship. The Elder Economic Security Index for North Carolina finds that a single senior without a mortgage needs about $17,916 to make ends meet while that number jumps to $20,964 for renters. The poverty threshold then represents just 61% of what is needed for a senior to get by in our state.
Social Security alone is necessary but not sufficient to protect seniors against hardship. Other supports are needed like Meals on Wheels programs, SNAP and community-based services. Reductions to these programs by federal and state budget writers puts at risk the great progress that has been made at reducing the economic hardship of older North Carolinians.