Key Takeaways

  • Over 15 million older adults aged 65+ are economically insecure, with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. 

  • NCOA's programs help older adults access benefits, explore how to use their home equity wisely, find training and jobs, and better manage their money.

  • Get the facts on economic security for older adults, and why this is an important issue for NCOA.

Over 15 million Americans aged 65+ are economically insecure—living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($25,760 per year for a single person in 2021).1 These older adults struggle with rising housing and health care bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings, and job loss. For older adults who are above the poverty level, one major adverse life event can change today’s realities into tomorrow’s troubles.

Poverty Measures

  • Over 15 million (or roughly 1 in 3) older adults aged 65+ are economically insecure, with incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).1
  • Older women are more likely to live in poverty than men as a result of wage discrimination and having to take time out of the workforce for caregiving.2
  • Over half of Black and Hispanic adults age 65+ have incomes below 200% of FPL.1
  • Social Security benefits lift 16.1 million older adults above the FPL.3
  • More accurate measures of economic well-being—including the Elder Index™ and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy’s Senior Financial Stability Index—show millions of older adults struggling to meet their monthly expenses, even though they’re not considered “poor” because they live above the FPL.

Income & Employment

  • The 2.3 million older adults on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive, on average, just $511 each month.4
  • Among Social Security beneficiaries age 65+, Social Security represents 50% or more of their income for 37% of men and 42% of women, and 90% or more of their income of 12% of men and 15% of women.5
  • On average, older women received about $9,900 less annually in retirement income in 2016 than older men due to lower lifetime earnings,  time taken off for caregiving, occupational segregation into lower wage work, and other issues. Older women of color fare even worse.6
  • In 2020, the unemployment rate for workers age 65+ skyrocketed to its highest annual rate of 7.5%.7 In May 2022, nearly 24% of the civilian labor force was people age 65 and older.8
  • Older workers of color are most at risk for unemployment. In the first quarter of 2022 among people 65+, unemployment rates by ethnicity were: white, 3.2%; Black, 4.8%; Asian, 2%; Hispanic, 4.7%. For men 65+, unemployment rates were: white, 3.6%; Black, 5.3%; Asian, 0.9%; Hispanic, 5.7%. And for women 65+, unemployment rates were: white, 2.5%; Black, 4.3%; Asian, 3%; Hispanic, 3%.9
  • Of older adults who lose a job, 70% experience it once, and 23% experience it twice.10

Debt & Savings

  • Of housholds headed by an individual age 65 or older, 61% had debt in 2016. The median debt of senior-led households was $31,050.11
  • In 2017, nearly half of adults age 55-66 had no personal retirement savings. About 50% of women age 55-66 had no personal retirement savings, compared to 47% of men in that age group.12
  • More than half of Baby Boomers said in a 2019 survey that they need to catch up on their retirement savings.13 
  • Of retirees 65+ surveyed in 2021, 93% said Social Security was a source of income in the previous 12 months, and 68% said a pension was.14

Health & Nutrition

  • In 2020, 5.2 million older Americans faced the threat of hunger, representing 6.8% of adults age 60+ in the U.S. Hunger is more likely for older Americans who are Black, Hispanic, or Native American, who have lower incomes, or who have a disability.15
  • Only 48% of older adults age 60+ who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are enrolled and receiving benefits.16
  • Adults age 60+ tend to participate in SNAP at lower-than-average rates, but in 2019, those living alone had a relatively high participation rate at 63%, compared to 28% among those older adults who were not living alone.17
  • About one in four older adults 65+ scrimp on food, utilities, clothing, or medication due to health care costs. And in 2022, 37% of older adults were worried about affording health care in the coming year.18
  • To cover health expenses in retirement, the average couple 65+ would need $315,000 in after-tax savings.19

Housing

  • Housing-related expenses cost adults 55+ an average of $16,219 per year, or 33% of their yearly budget.20
  • Of the 9.7 million older adults who owe money on a mortgage and/or home equity line of credit, 30% have payments that exceed one quarter of their income.21
  • Of homeowners age 65-79, 46% had mortgage debt in 2016. About 46% of homeowners 80+ also had mortgage debt. And 56% of Black homeowners age 65+ and 50% of Hispanic homeowners age 65+ had housing debt in 2016, compared to 39% of white and 36% of Asian homeowners 65 and older.22

NCOA’s Role

NCOA offers several programs and products that provide hope for economically insecure older adults.

Center for Benefits Access

NCOA’s Center for Benefits Access helps community-based organizations find and enroll seniors and younger adults with disabilities with limited means into benefits programs for which they are eligible, so they can remain healthy, secure, and independent. The center develops and shares tools, resources, best practices, and strategies for benefits outreach and enrollment.

Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)

NCOA manages 24 Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) offices under a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. SCSEP helps adults age 55+ return to or remain active in the workforce by providing job training, job search services, and on-the-job experience. 

Age Well Planner

Our Age Well Planner tool lets you answer a few quick questions to get personalized information on meeting your financial and health needs, including through retirement planning, selecting a Medicare plan, and seeing if you qualify for money-saving benefits.

BenefitsCheckup

BenefitsCheckUp® connects millions of older adults with benefits programs that can help pay for health care, medicine, food, utilities, and more. Every year, billions of dollars in benefits programs go unclaimed because older adults don't know they’re eligible or how to apply. BenefitsCheckUp can help you find savings for yourself, or for someone you know. 

Sources

1. Kaiser Family Foundation. How Many Seniors Live in Poverty? 2018. Found on the internet at https://files.kff.org/attachment/Issue-Brief-How-Many-Seniors-Live-in-Poverty

2. Justice in Aging. Older Women and Poverty. Found on the internet at https://justiceinaging.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Older-Women-and-Poverty.pdf

3. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Social Security Lifts More People Above the Poverty Line Than Any Other Program. Found on the internet at https://www.cbpp.org/research/social-security/social-security-lifts-more-people-above-the-poverty-line-than-any-other

4. U.S. Social Security Administration. Monthly Statistical Snapshot, June 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/stat_snapshot/index.html?qs

5. U.S. Social Security Administration. Fact Sheet: Social Security.  Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/basicfact-alt.pdf

6. National Institute on Retirement Security. Still Shortchanged: An Update on Women's Retirement Preparedness. Found on the internet at https://www.nirsonline.org/reports/stillshortchanged/

7. Richard W. Johnson. Will Older Adults Return to the Workforce? Urban Institute. Urban Wire. March 12, 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/will-older-adults-return-workforce

8. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Employment Situation — July 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf

9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Updated July 8, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpsee_e16.htm

10. Peter Gosselin. If You're Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won't Be Yours. ProPublica. Dec. 28, 2018. Found on the internet at https://www.propublica.org/article/older-workers-united-states-pushed-out-of-work-forced-retirement

11. Congressional Research Service. Household Debt Among Older Americans, 1989-2016. Found on the internet at https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/R45911.pdf

12. Brittany King. U.S. Census Bureau. Women More Likely Than Men to Have No Retirement Savings. Jan. 13, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2022/01/women-more-likely-than-men-to-have-no-retirement-savings.html

13. Ameritrade. 2019 Retirement Pulse Survey. Found on the internet at https://s2.q4cdn.com/437609071/files/doc_news/research/2019/retirement-pulse-survey.pdf

14. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2020-May 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/2021-economic-well-being-of-us-households-in-2020-retirement.htm

15. Feeding America. Facts about senior hunger in America. Found on the internet at https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/senior-hunger-facts

16. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Service. Trends in SNAP Participation Rates: FY 2010-2017. Found on the internet at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/trends-participation-rates-fy-2010

17. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Service. Trends in USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates: Fiscal Year 2016 to Fiscal Year 2019 (Summary). Found on the internet at https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/Trends2016-2019-Summary.pdf

18. Nicole Willcoxon. Older Adults Sacrificing Basic Needs Due to Healthcare Costs. Gallup. June 15, 2022. Found on the internet at https://news.gallup.com/poll/393494/older-adults-sacrificing-basic-needs-due-%20healthcare-costs.aspx

19. Fidelity Investments. How to plan for rising healthcare costs. Fidelity Viewpoints. May 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/personal-finance/plan-for-rising-health-care-costs

20. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A closer look at spending patterns of older Americans. Found on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-5/spending-patterns-of-older-americans.htm

21. Jennifer Molinksy and Whitney Airgood-Obrycki. Join Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Older Adults Increasingly Face Housing Affordability Challenges. Sept. 21, 2018. Found on the internet at https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/blog/older-adults-increasingly-face-housing-affordability-challenges

22. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Housing America's Older Adults 2019. A Supplement to the State of the Nation's Housing Report. Found on the internet at https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Harvard_JCHS_Housing_Americas_Older_Adults_2019.pdf