Old man's hand holding several pennies.
The Kaiser Family Foundation released a report Monday showing that more seniors than previously thought are living in poverty. Instead of 1 in 10 seniors subsisting at poverty levels, it's actually 1 in 7.

Beginning in 2011, the Census Bureau started releasing data with both their standard measure of poverty, in use since the 1960s, and an alternative, or supplemental, measure that considers out-of-pocket health care spending and regional cost of living. According to the Kaiser analysis of this data, “The supplemental measure suggests that a greater share of seniors may already be struggling financially than is conveyed by the official measure.” This also means that the Medicare and Social Security benefits cuts President Obama included in his grand bargain offer could spike poverty in the elderly.

Some of the key findings in this analysis:

  • There are more seniors living in poverty in every state under the official masure, but in 12 states there are at least twice as many as under the official measure: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
  • Under the supplemental measure, about 1 in 4 seniors in D.C. is living in poverty, and about 1 in 5 are in California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Georgia and New York.
  • Nationally, 48 percent of seniors live with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold using the supplemental measure. It's bad enough that under the standard measure, it's 34 percent. In other words, by the Census estimates our leaders make policy by, a third of seniors are living on the edge of poverty, but in reality, it's almost half.
  • Using the supplemental measure, 40 percent of seniors in 48 states and D.C. have incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold, but using the standard measure, that's true in only six states and D.C.

Half of America's seniors don't have what Social Security has always been intended to promise: security. The ideas being floated for a grand bargain would make it worse.

Instead of talking about cutting benefits for seniors, the discussion needs to be about restoring security to them. One way to do that is to coalesce support behind a bill like Sen. Tom Harkin's Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 (S. 567). It would increase Social Security benefits and strengthen the program by: changing the method the Social Security Administration uses to calculate benefits to make sure those who need it most will have adequate payments; using a cost of living adjustment that actually reflects what seniors have to spend their money on, like health care; and phasing out the cap on taxable income, currently $113,700, so that every dollar of wages is subject to payroll taxes.

Please join with Daily Kos and Social Security Works by signing our petition telling every member of Congress to increase Social Security benefits by passing The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Wed May 22, 2013 at 07:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by Social Security Defenders and Daily Kos.

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