A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation looks at the poverty rate of seniors across the country. The report uses the new supplemental poverty measure from the Census Bureau to estimate poverty rates. According to the Census Bureau, poverty rates among elderly West Virginians are slightly higher under the supplemental poverty measure (11%) than under the official poverty measure (9%).
The supplemental poverty measure differs from the official measure in a number of ways. The official poverty threshold is set at three times the subsistence food budget from 1963, adjusted for inflation. The official measure counts all pre-tax monetary income, which includes wages and social security benefits. The official poverty threshold is lower for households with elderly members.
The supplemental poverty measure bases the thresholds on more recent measures of expenditures, and adjusts them for home ownership status and regional housing prices. The supplemental measure does not differentiate between adults above and below the age of 65. The supplemental measure adds the value of tax credits and in-kind government benefits (like food stamps) to income, while deducting job-related expenses, taxes, and out-of-pocket expenses for health care.
The deduction of out-of-pocket expenses for health care from income is the biggest difference maker when it comes to comparing senior poverty rates. In 2009, half of seniors spent at least 16% of their income on health care.
West Virginia actually saw one of the smallest jumps in senior poverty rates under the new measure. Nationwide, the senior poverty rate jumped from 9% to 15% under the new measure, compared to West Virginia’s increase from 9% to 11%.
The percentage of seniors at 200% of the poverty threshold or below also increased in West Virginia, from 38% to 43%, while it increased from 34% to 48% nationwide.
While the supplemental measure shows an increase in the number of West Virginia seniors living in poverty over the official measure, West Virginia was one of the few states where the increase was actually not statistically significant.
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