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Huge Spike In Poverty Among Elderly Women Catches Analysts By Surprise

By Alan Pyke

"Huge Spike In Poverty Among Elderly Women Catches Analysts By Surprise"

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(Credit: U.S. News and World Report)

(Credit: U.S. News and World Report)

The number of women over the age of 65 living in extreme poverty jumped by 18 percent last year after having held steady for most of the previous decade the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) reported Thursday.

There were 135,000 more elderly women living on less than $5,500 per year in 2012 than in 2011, pushing the total size of that group to 733,000. Put another way, there are more elderly women living on $15 per day than there are residents of Detroit, Michigan.

NWLC experts aren’t sure what caused the unexpected jump, though they told The Atlantic that it isn’t due to weakening private pension systems or general population aging. Those factors wouldn’t impact extreme poverty without also causing poverty in general to spike among the elderly and there was no such generalized increase in poverty among older Americans. “One factor might be cuts in recent years to Social Security Administration funding which may be making applications for [Supplemental Security Income] more difficult,” the NWLC’s Kate Gallagher Robbins told MSNBC.

Women are more economically vulnerable than men at all life stages. They are less likely to live in economically secure households and experience higher overall poverty rates. They are paid less than men starting from the very beginning of their careers, no matter how qualified they are or how high up the job responsibility ladder they rise. The share of job gains in the recovery from low-wage occupations was three times as high for women (60 percent) as for men (20 percent). Women are two-thirds of the entire minimum wage workforce.

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