Don't Let a Bunch of Billionaires and Millionaires Cut Your Social Security
When many of us think of how senior citizens live their lives, our thoughts turn to retirement communities in Palm Springs or Boca Raton. But in fact, a large percentage of older Americans must regularly grapple with far harsher economic realities.
Reports by the National Elder Economic Security Initiative paint a stark picture of the difficulties faced by many Americans over 65. Nearly 10 percent of this group lives in poverty, but what’s even more alarming is the pattern of gender and racial disparities.
11.8 percent of women over 65 percent live below the poverty, compared to only 7.2 percent of their male counterparts. And this distinction becomes even more significant when race is factored in; while 10.1 percent of white women in this age group live in poverty, an astonishing 21.4 percent of Hispanic women and 23.9 percent of African-American women do.
If anything, the picture these figures paint is too rosy when compared to reality. That’s because they’re based on the federal poverty line, a figure which fails to take into account the rising cost of living. While the poverty line for a single elder American in 2008 may be $10,400, the Initiative reports that this figure hasn’t been adjusted for the rising costs of basic necessities like food, transportation, medical care, or care for a spouse or relative. The Initiative has produced a more accurate estimate addressing these flaws, which puts the cost of living for an individual person over 65 at nearly twice the poverty line - $20,248 for a single renter. Surviving on half that annual budget or less is a Herculean endeavor for seniors living at or below the poverty line.
For these seniors struggling to stay afloat, Social Security is a vital source of income. In fact, for three in ten retirees over 65, it provides over 90 percent of income. And again, gender and racial disparities are real. Two out of every five women over 65 rely solely on Social Security income. That doesn’t mean it’s enough to live on, especially for women. The Initiative has found that the average Social Security income is only 54 percent of what women need to achieve economic security, compared to 70 percent for men.
Ironically, this is an area in which many older Americans suffer for having slightly higher incomes. Since many state and federal assistance programs determine eligibility based on the inaccurate poverty line figure, these programs must turn away seniors who make significantly less than what they need for economic security, but still live above the poverty line.
Based on this grim picture, the need for Social Security is clear. With so many older Americans already forced to pick and choose basic necessities, it’s no exaggeration to say that the program is necessary for many Americans to survive. And considering the hardships so many seniors face – especially if they’re women, people of color, or both – those in Washington who are considering cuts to Social Security should think long and hard about the real-world consequences of their proposals. If there’s any group of Americans that should have to “sacrifice” more than they already do, it isn’t seniors. It’s not that hard a message to grasp, but it’s one that all too many of our policy-makers and pundits refuse to hear. And as they meet this Wednesday to propose solutions to our “deficit crisis,” they need to be made aware that it’s not acceptable to sacrifice the well-being of Americans over 65 on the altar of “fiscal responsibility.”