We know how to reduce poverty among seniors

Relying on the new Census data, Suzy Khimm has a great item this afternoon, showing in five charts just how drastic the effects of the Great Recession have been. The images are nothing short of brutal.

There was one image, in particular, though, that I wanted to flag for a tangential reason.

This chart from the Census Bureau notes the differences in poverty rates among age groups over the last half-century. The red line shows poverty among those 65 and older; the blue line shows minors; and the yellow line shows those 18 to 64. You’ll notice that by the end of the Clinton era, there was a noticeable drop in poverty rates, especially among children, while over the last decade, conditions have deteriorated for those under 64.

But among seniors, poverty rates have been declining steadily for decades, and as of 2010, despite growing poverty throughout the economy, Khimm noted, “[O]lder Americans are even less likely to be in poverty than they were during the start of the recession…. [T]he poverty rate for seniors is at a record low: in 2009, it was at 8.9 percent, and it’s remained essentially flat since then.”

This isn’t an accident and it’s not a fluke. Indeed, note that on the left side of the chart, as of a half-century ago, those most likely to be in poverty were seniors.

So what happened? Social Security and Medicare happened. These pillars of modern American life have brought a degree of stability and economic security to millions of older people who’ve left the workforce.

And yet, nearly every Republican member of Congress this year voted to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. Of the two leading Republican presidential candidates, one wants to privatize Social Security, while the other wants to see Social Security disbanded and sent to the states.

We know poverty was well past crisis levels for older Americans not too long ago, and we know exactly what worked to bring those rates down. And yet, as the GOP has become radicalized, the threats to Medicare and Social Security have never been so severe.