The Elderly Are Probably Better Off Than We Think

Tyler Cowen points me today to a new Census Bureau report that suggests the elderly are better off than we think. Why? Because when they respond to surveys, they don’t accurately report pension income:

The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) is the source of the nation’s official household income and poverty statistics. In 2012, the CPS ASEC showed that median household income was $33,800 for householders aged 65 and over and the poverty rate was 9.1 percent for persons aged 65 and over. When we instead use an extensive array of administrative income records linked to the same CPS ASEC sample, we find that median household income was $44,400 (30 percent higher) and the poverty rate was just 6.9 percent….The discrepancy is mainly attributable to underreporting of retirement income from defined benefit pensions and retirement account withdrawals.

Here’s the key pair of charts for people 65 years and older:

It’s surprising how hard it is to get data on pension income in particular and the income of the elderly in general. For past years, the data often just doesn’t exist, and for more recent years the data is full of problems. However, this study doesn’t surprise me. After spending a lot of time diving into what data exists, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in general, the elderly are (a) better off than we think and (b) have seen their income rise considerably more than any other age group over the past couple of decades. More details here.

The poorest elderly—primarily folks who spent their working lives at low-income jobs and now rely solely on Social Security—are truly in need, and their Social Security payments ought to be increased by a third or so. We also ought to do something about long-term nursing care, which can quickly bankrupt even the well-off elderly.

Those two things are what progressives should focus on, not on the mythical “retirement crisis.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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