For seniors, chalk one up for government
Rick Perry calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme and GOP presidential candidates rail against Washington, but the latest poverty numbers tell a much different story: Big government makes a big impact on poverty.
Poverty rates have increased for working people and children since the 2007 recession, but they declined slightly for those 65 and older. Of course, that group of Americans benefits from Social Security and Medicare, the twin pillars of a federal safety net that’s dramatically raised living standards.
In 1959, more than one-third of seniors lived in poverty. That share plummeted in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and continued to decline in the next 20 years. Meanwhile, more working-age residents have fallen on hard times since 2000, as joblessness swelled and real income growth stalled and declined. Today, working-age Americans are more likely to be impoverished than their grandparents.
Take away Social Security payments, the Census Bureau said, and the number of seniors in poverty would quintuple – exploding from 3.5 million to 17.4 million. The vast majority of seniors also have health insurance, thanks to Medicare, and that’s crucial to financial security, too.
Both programs must make changes to remain sustainable, as most politicians agree. In the past, lawmakers have adjusted both without gutting their core principles – and without throwing scores of people into poverty.
There should be no doubt about why Social Security and Medicare are so popular: They work.