Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Dire poverty climbs for older women, study finds

PITTSBURGH — An alarming number of women older than the 65 joined the extreme poor last year, according to a new report by the National Women’s Law Center entitled “Insecure & Unequal.” It analyzes recently released data from the Census Bureau.

The retirement picture for nearly 1 million older women in America whose income fell below extreme poverty levels last year — meaning their annual income is $5,500 or less — is anything but golden. They never have enough to cover food, medicine, and housing and must make tough choices daily on what sacrifices they must make to survive.

“The economic security of older women is getting worse,” said Kate Gallagher Robbins, senior policy analyst at the law center in Washington. “We are talking about an entire population of women who are already on the brink and will be pushed further into economic need.”

The number of aging women struggling to make ends meet on $500 or less each month increased 18 percent last year, according to the law center's analysis of U.S. Census data. That means an additional 135,000 elderly people slid into extreme poverty in 2012. The total number of women 65 and older in this country living on $5,500 a year or less now totals 733,000.

Other key findings in the report were that the poverty rate — based on $11,720 or less in annual income for single adults — among adult women was 14.5 percent in 2012, compared to 11 percent for adult men.

The poverty rate for single-mother families with children was 40.9 percent compared to 22.6 percent for single fathers with children and 8.9 percent for families with children headed by a married couple.

While the law center's report does not say why extreme poverty is on the rise for older single women, many of the differences between the economic status of men and women of retirement age can be seen by looking at how the earning patterns and life expectancy of men and women differ.

Previous studies by different organizations have found that women on average have lower lifetime earnings than men.

Women often spend fewer years in the work force because they are more likely to drop out of the work force to raise children or care for relatives. Women generally have a longer life span than men. Women also are less likely to receive a pension, and they tend to have lower financial net worth than men.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tim Grant is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Tim Grant at: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.

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