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Census: Senior women have higher poverty rate than elderly men

SALT LAKE CITY — At 71, Evelyn Waters keeps close tabs on her budget.

After paying her rent at Multi-Ethnic Senior Housing and keeping up with her bills, she sets a little aside each month to buy gifts for her two grandchildren or an occasional splurge for herself.

"I really like a McDonald's quarter-pounder with cheese," she said, softly laughing.

Living at the apartment complex, which is a Housing and Urban Development-subsidized project for people with disabilities and people 62 and older, helps Waters stretch her fixed income.

She has lived at the Multi-Ethnic high-rise for nine years.

"The price is right. What I really like is the interest they show in taking care of the building," she said. To qualify to live at the complex, which is owned by Utah Non Profit Housing Corp., renters must have incomes 50 percent or less of the area median income.

Waters belongs to a cohort of Americans — women age 65 and older — who face significant challenges making ends meet.

According to Census data released Wednesday, 12.1 percent of women 65 and older live in poverty, compared to 7.4 percent of their male peers.

Peter Hebertson, program manager for outreach and ombudsman programs for Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services, said far more women than men reach out to the county for services.

While many of its services were created with older seniors in mind, such as Meals on Wheels or home-based care, there has been growing demand for services from younger seniors seeking assistance with housing or affordable insurance. There are long waits for units at affordable housing complexes and the supply of HUD vouchers is bleak.

"Sometimes we end up referring people to our employment program to help them get a job because that's all that's out there," he said.

The reasons senior women are more impoverished than men vary. Women of that cohort typically worked lower-wage jobs with fewer opportunities for private retirement savings or they did not qualify for workplace retirement benefits, Hebertson said.

Waters, who is divorced, said she has worked most of her life. "I have a little retirement and I have two pensions, but they're not very much," she said.

The other factor at work is that women tend to outlive men, so they have to spread their savings and fixed incomes over more years.

As the first of the baby boomers retire, Salt Lake County officials are mindful of what some call the "silver tsunami."

The state's population of people 65 and older is expected to increase by 145 percent between 2000 and 2030, which means it would top 460,500 by 2030, according to the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services 2013 annual report.

Women ages 18 to 64 also have a higher poverty rate than men, although the disparity is greater among seniors.

Nationwide, the poverty rate remained about 14.8 percent, according to the Census report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014.

Glenn Bailey, executive director of Crossroads Urban Center, which advocates for low-income people, said while national poverty rate has not fluctuated much in recent years, it has not returned to lower levels prior to the economic downturn. Reliance on food stamps remains at record highs, he said.

Many people who lost jobs did not return to the workforce in positions that paid as well or provide benefits, Bailey said.

"We're not really reaching down and bringing up the people who have the least," he said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com