"Poverty among Americans 65 and over is statistically unchanged" in recent years because of Social Security.
Rachel Maddow on Monday, September 19th, 2011 in on "The Rachel Maddow Show"
Rachel Maddow said Social Security is keeping older Americans out of poverty
The most recent census numbers show poverty is on the rise. Median household incomes have fallen to their lowest level since the 1990s, prompting analysts to say we are in the midst of a "lost decade."
The news that the U.S. poverty rate is now the highest it has been since the early '90s, nearly one in six Americans now living in poverty. And the specifics are even worse: Child poverty rose from under 21 percent to 22 percent. Poverty among Hispanic Americans went from more than 25 percent to more than 26 percent. Poverty among African-Americans went from just under 26 percent to over 27 percent. Poverty among white people is much lower than those other groups but it is rising, too, and fast. It went up from 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent.
The only large segment of the American population that serves as any sort of silver lining in these poverty numbers is older Americans. Poverty among Americans 65 and over is statistically unchanged, even as it is getting so much worse for so many other groups of people. And that, of course, is because we have something in this country that keeps older Americans out of poverty. It's called Social Security.
And the fact that Social Security works, that it is keeping old people out of poverty in America, even as everybody else is slipping into it, the fact that it works means that in Republicanland, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is someone who says that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and a failure.
We wondered if Maddow was right that Social Security is the main factor keeping older Americans out of poverty. We suspected the federal program likely played some role, but we also wondered what role traditional pensions played. So we decided to check it out.
Published: Monday, September 19th, 2011 at 4:29 p.m.
The Rachel Maddow Show, transcript via Nexis, Sept. 13, 2011
U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2010 (pdf)
U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2010
U.S. Social Security Administration Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, Importance of income sources relative to total income, 2008
CRS Report for Congress, Social Security Reform: Possible Effects on the Elderly Poor and Mitigation Options, April 4, 2008
The Associated Press, Census: US poverty rate swells to nearly 1 in 6, Sept. 13, 2011
New York Times, Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on 'Lost Decade,' Sept. 13, 2011
PolitiFact, Bill O'Reilly says poverty hasn't budged since 1965 despite 'trillions' spent, July 29, 2011
PolitiFact, Ed Schultz says Social Security lifts more than a million Floridians out of poverty, Sept. 1, 2011
Interview with Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute
Interview with Melissa Favreault of the Urban Institute
Congressional Budget Office, Is Social Security Progressive, Dec. 15, 2006
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, federal poverty guidelines, 2011
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