Face the Facts: Senior Poverty

senior poverty

Myth: Social security takes care of the senior population

Fact: 9 percent of seniors live below the poverty line.

Ask an average person to describe someone in poverty, many faces may arise: a young child, a single working mom with a house full of kids, or an unemployed 20-year-old high school dropout. But does an 78-year old woman come to mind?

According to Feeding America, 9 percent of the population 65 and older, 4.6 million adults, lived below the poverty line in 2015. This population can face harsh difficulties in their post-employment age of relying on savings and federal assistance.

Health care bills, access to quality nutrition, reliable transportation, physical capabilities and low financial support can quickly propel individuals into a state of not knowing where their next meal is coming from.

Debt is a major hurdle. According to the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, one-third of senior households is either in debt after meeting expenses or has no funds left over every month (NCOA).

For many, the Supplemental Security Income check that 2.1 million adults receive is just $435 per month, according to 2016 numbers (NCOA). With such meager amounts of assistance, affording necessary expenses such as food and housing become more difficult.

For women, the threat of poverty is even greater. In 2014, women received $4,500 less in Social Security benefits than men, according to the Social Security Administration (NCOA). With perpetual issues of wage inequality, time taken off to care for children and other systemic issues, the assistance checks women receive may fall short.

Food insecurity has also burdened the 65 and older population. While children have alarming rates of food insecurity, so do seniors.

  • In 2015, 2.9 million (8 percent) of households with a senior aged 65+ experienced food insecurity (Feeding America).
  • Of households where seniors live alone, 1.2 million, or 9 percent, didn’t have access to quality food (Feeding America).
  • Overall in 2014, 5.7 million, 9 percent of all seniors, were food insecure (Feeding America).

When seniors aren’t able to be nourished with quality and healthy food, consequences fall on their health. Those facing food insecurity are more likely to experience chronic health problems that can cause further issues.

Feeding America notes that food insecure seniors are 60 percent more likely to struggle with depression and 53 percent more likely to have a heart attack. Even if seniors have the financial support to purchase quality food, they may struggle with transportation or access to such foods.

With Access of West Michigan’s Poverty Simulation, people have the opportunity to experience the realities these seniors face.


Select profiles assigned to participants include the life of a senior balancing a fixed income, medical appointments and struggling to pay for groceries.

These hands-on, real-life experiences through the Living On the Edge Simulations seek to generate awareness of the poverty not just experienced by middle-aged adults, but seniors as well.





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