Poverty Rises Sharply Among Older Single Women

The number of single senior women living in extreme poverty jumped between 2011 and 2012. It’s not clear why.


We already know that women are more likely to retire poor than men, for several reasons. But a new report suggests the problem is getting worse.

The National Women’s Law Center released a study of poverty and income among women and families between 2000 and 2012. It covered people of all ages, and found that the poverty rate for women increased to 14.5 percent in 2012 from 11.5 percent in 2000. The poverty rate for men in 2012 was 11 percent.

The extreme poverty rate also increased, especially for senior women living alone. It was 3.1 percent in 2012, up from 2.6 percent in 2011, “after being fairly stable for the last decade,” The Atlantic says. National Women’s Law Center senior policy analyst Katherine Gallagher Robbins described it as “a big jump,” and one she couldn’t explain.

The Census Bureau’s poverty threshold in 2012 was $11,945 for one person under 65 and $11,011 for one person 65 or older. Extreme poverty is half those amounts.

The study also found that:

  • Poverty among women was at or near historically high levels in 2012. For senior women, the poverty rate was 11 percent, versus a rate of 6.6 percent for senior men.
  • Also, “18.9 percent of women 65 and older living alone lived in poverty, compared to 11.9 percent for men 65 and older living alone.”
  • Of the 17.8 million women living in poverty in 2012, nearly 7.8 million had incomes below $5,585 per year.
  • Most poor children — or more than 16 million (more than one in five of all U.S. children) — lived in families headed by women. The poverty rate for those families was 40.9 percent, compared with 8.9 percent for families headed by a married couple.
  • “Nearly 587,000 single mothers (13.2 percent) who worked full time, year round in 2012 lived in poverty.”
  • Mississippi had the highest percentage of senior women in poverty during 2012 at 18.3 percent. Wyoming had the lowest, at 5.1 percent.

Income was measured before taxes, and included earnings, pensions, investments, Social Security, unemployment, and child support payments. It did not include food stamps, tax credits, or housing subsidies.

All these stats point to a special need for women to plan carefully for retirement. Check out the video below for some help.

Stacy Johnson

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