According to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau , in 2013 the percentage of older adults (65+) whose incomes fall below the federal poverty threshold is lower than it is for children and non-elderly adults. 1 in 10 (10% exactly) older adults in North Carolina lived in poverty in 2013, compared to 17.9% of the state’s population overall and 25.2% of children. The percentage of North Carolina’s older adults living in poverty in 2013 is one percentage point higher than it was in 2007 when the recession hit.
The reason for the comparatively low rate of poverty amongst older adults is plain and simple – Social Security. Established in 1935, this relatively simple and universal public program continues to accomplish its primary purpose of providing basic economic security for older Americans. The Census Bureau calculates that in 2013 the number of older adults living in poverty would be four times higher  (14.7 million more Americans) if it were not for Social Security benefits. Moreover, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP ) determined that 52.6% of NC’s older adults would have incomes below the poverty threshold if Social Security income was not included. This one public system alone allows 559,000 Tar Heels to achieve this basic level of economic security.
That’s not to say that seniors do not face economic hardships and hurdles. An increasing number of older adults need to work to make ends meet and yet there is very little public investment in training opportunities to help seniors develop the skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace. In their FY 2015 budget state lawmakers cut funding by nearly $1 million for the Home and Community Care Block Grant  that provides in-home and community-based services to adults ages 65 and over and is not funded through Medicaid. The average participant is nearly 80 years old, and the services are well-targeted to those in need. Roughly 16,000 older adults are on waiting lists for home-delivered meals, transportation to doctor appointments, and adult day care services funded by the block grant. The demand for these services is likely to continue to grow as North Carolina’s population ages.
This is the sixth post in a series that takes a detailed look at the 2013 US Census Bureau poverty data released on September 18th. Previous posts examined: 1) how North Carolina is faring overall ; 2) how poverty varies by race , 3) poverty by County ; 4) child poverty ; and 5) the impact, or lack thereof, of the current economic recovery on poverty  in our state. Read the entire series here.