Official Poverty Statistics Mask the Economic Vulnerability of Seniors
In this brief, we compare Maine, one of the oldest states in the nation, to the United States as a whole. Historically, both children and the elderly were regarded as vulnerable groups in need of support from government programs. Traditional poverty estimates suggest that at least since the late 1960s, senior poverty has been on the decline, whereas poverty among children has increased. Declines among seniors are largely attributable to the advent of programs such as Social Security. Similar to the nation, about half of Maine seniors (51.0 percent) would be poor without Social Security benefits. However, traditional poverty measurement masks the role rising medical costs play in pushing seniors into poverty. The newer Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which accounts for these costs, reveals that more than one in ten Maine seniors over age 55 were living below the poverty line in 2009–2013. This is 2.3 percentage points higher than official estimates suggest. Without medical expenses, the SPM indicates that poverty among Maine seniors would be roughly cut in half, from 10.2 percent to 5.2 percent. A similar reduction is evident across the United States (from 14.2 percent to 9.0 percent), though this represents a smaller relative reduction in poverty (by just over one-third).