Social Security STUDY: Elder Poverty Cut 75%, Income Gap Narrowed

Tom Boland (
Sat, 17 Apr 1999 07:21:10 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Washington Post - Thursday, April 8, 1999


     By Alice Ann Love

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Social Security benefits significantly help narrow the
income disparities between women and men in old age, according to a study.

``Social Security cuts about in half the gap in poverty rates between
elderly women and elderly men,'' said Robert Greenstein, executive director
of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

The nonprofit research center used 1997 Census data to measure the impact
Social Security benefits have on lifting elderly Americans' incomes above
the federal poverty level.

Elderly individuals were considered to be poor in 1997 if they had income
below $7,698 a year; or below $9,712 for elderly couples.

Women get a particularly good deal from Social Security, the study found.
Although women pay 38 percent of all Social Security payroll taxes, they
get 53 percent of benefits.

In part, that's because women live longer than men, and Social Security
benefits rise each year to keep up with inflation. Also, women make up the
bulk of those who collect the special Social Security benefits that
spouses, widows and widowers are entitled to receive even if they never
worked themselves.

Social Security generally provides bigger retirement checks to people who
earned more during their working lives, and men tend to earn more than

However, the program somewhat mitigates that by taking into account a
higher percentage of low-wage workers' earnings when calculating their
retirement benefits -- and that does help women.

Those factors mean Social Security narrows the gap between the poverty
rates for elderly men and women -- compared with what senior citizens would
have if they didn't get any Social Security.

Without monthly Social Security checks, 52.6 percent of women ages 65 and
older would be poor, compared with 40.8 percent of men -- a gap of 11.8
percent, the study found. But with Social Security, 14.7 percent of elderly
women were poor, compared with 8.2 percent of men -- cutting the old-age
poverty gap between the sexes to 6.5 percent.

Women who are not married when they are elderly do not benefit as much,
Greenstein said. Even with Social Security benefits, the poverty rate among
elderly widows is 20.3 percent, and for single and divorced women it is 27

The study also found that black and Hispanic Americans draw a larger
percentage of their old-age income from Social Security than whites.
Elderly blacks rely on Social Security the most, getting on average 43.4
percent of their income from the retirement program, compared with 41.4
percent for Hispanics and 35.8 percent for whites.

Whites are more likely to have retirement income other than Social
Security. For example, they're more than twice as likely as minorities to
have personal investments, the study found.

Overall, the study found that without income from Social Security, 47.6
percent of elderly Americans -- 15.3 million people -- would have been poor
in 1997.

Social Security benefits, however, cut that poverty rate by three-quarters,
to 11.9 percent, or 3.8 million senior citizens.


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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