Publication Date

10-2-2009

Abstract

[Excerpt] Older Americans are an economically diverse group. In 2008, the median income of individuals aged 65 and older was $18,208 but incomes varied widely around this average. One-fourth of Americans 65 and older had incomes of less than $11,139 in 2008, while another one-fourth had incomes of $33,677 or more. Older Americans receive income from a variety of sources, including earnings, pensions, personal savings, and public programs such as Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. This report provides information from the March 2009 Current Population Survey on the number of elderly individuals and households who received income from each of these sources in 2008 and the amount of income received by individuals and households. Income from each source is reported as the annual amount received in 2008.

Social Security and pensions are the two most common sources of income among the aged. In 2008, Social Security paid benefits to 86% of individuals aged 65 and older and to 89% of households in which the householder or the householder's spouse was 65 or older. Social Security is the largest single source of income among the aged. Sixty-nine percent of Social Security beneficiaries aged 65 or older received more than half of their income from Social Security in 2008. For 41% of elderly recipients and 28% of elderly households, Social Security accounted for more than 90% of total income in 2008.

Thirty-four percent of persons aged 65 and older received income from private-sector and public sector pensions in 2008. Among individuals aged 65 and older who reported receiving income from government pensions, the median amount received in 2008 was $18,000. Among recipients of private pensions, median pension income was $7,584. Forty-four percent of households in which either the household head or spouse was aged 65 or older received income from a private or public pension in 2008. Median household income from public-sector pensions in 2008 was $19,162. Median household income from private-sector pensions in 2008 was $8,412.

Many Americans prepare for retirement by saving and investing some of their income while they are working. Of the 37.8 million Americans aged 65 and older who were living in households in 2008, 20.4 million (54%) received income from assets, such as interest, dividends, rent, and royalties. Most received small amounts of income from the assets they owned. Among individuals aged 65 and older who received income from assets in 2008, half received less than $1,054. Of households with a householder or spouse aged 65 or older, 59% received income from assets in 2008. Among these households, median income from assets in 2008 was $1,542.

Earnings are a significant source of income for older Americans, especially for those under age 70. Although there was a trend toward earlier retirement from about 1960 to 1985, in recent years more Americans have continued to work at older ages. In 2008, 68% of Americans aged 55 to 64 worked at some time during the year. The median earnings of workers aged 55 to 64 were $37,000. Although just 20% of individuals aged 65 and older worked in 2008, 35% of those aged 65 to 69 had earnings from work. The median earnings of workers aged 65 to 69 were $25,000. Among all workers 65 and older, median earnings in 2008 were $20,000.

Poverty among Americans aged 65 and older has fallen from one in three older persons in 1960 to less than one in ten today. In 2008, the poverty rate among individuals aged 65 and older (9.7%) was lower than the poverty rates among children under age 18 (19%) and adults aged 18 to 64 (11.7%). Although the overall rate of poverty among older Americans is relatively low, it remains high for women, minorities, the less-educated, and people over age 80.

Comments

Suggested Citation
Purcell, P. (2009). Income and poverty among older Americans in 2008. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/key_workplace/672

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