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New Research: Social Security Helps Older Women, especially Black Women and Latinas, Stay Out of Poverty

Older women's poverty would double without Social Security.

According two new fact sheets from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Social Security can be a lifeline out of poverty for older black women and Latinas.
May 23, 2011

Washington, DC—According two new fact sheets from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Social Security can be a lifeline out of poverty for older black women and Latinas. While the program is crucial to many older Americans, it is especially important to black women and Latinas,  because they tend to have fewer alternative sources of income, experience higher poverty rates, and earn less on average throughout their working years.

“A United States without Social Security would be one where older women, and particularly those who are black and Latina, would be vulnerable and struggling to meet their costs of living,” said Jeff Hayes, Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Black women account for 5.7 million and Latinas account for 1.7 million of the 52.5 million Social Security beneficiaries in the U.S. Without Social Security, the poverty rate among Latinas aged 62–64 would be 34 percent, compared with its current rate of 15 percent. Among black women, the poverty rate for the same age group would be even higher at 36 percent, compared with its current rate of 16 percent.

The anti-poverty effects of Social Security are even stronger among older black women and Latinas. Between the ages of 65 and 74, one in five Latinas is living in poverty—jumping to approximately half of Latinas in this age group if Social Security were not available. Without Social Security, half of black women aged 65–74 and six out of ten of those aged 75 and older would be living in poverty.

Social Security is especially important to black women and Latinas due to a number of factors beyond higher rates of poverty. For example, the recession hit black households strongly with a 4.4 percent decline in income between 2008 and 2009.

On average, black women experience higher rates of disability at older ages: 26 percent of black women who receive Social Security benefits receive disability benefits, compared with 12 percent of white women and 14 percent of adult women from all races combined.

Latinas experience circumstances that make Social Security especially crucial to them in their later years. When Latinas are employed at younger ages, they tend to be concentrated in low-wage jobs, so contributions to Social Security from their earnings are relatively low.

Latinas have a longer average life expectancy and are dependent on Social Security for more time. Latinas who were age 65 in 2010 have an average life expectancy of 89 years, compared with 85 years for all women and Hispanic men and 82 years for all men.

Above age 64 few Latinas report income from sources other than Social Security. Only 27 percent of this group report any income from assets which is their second most common source of income. Social Security is also the most common source of income for black women age 62 and older.

The benefits that black women and Latinas receive from Social Security are very modest—remaining below $10,000 per year for all age groups—but provide a vital source of income.

The fact sheets were based on data from the 2010 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement Survey and the report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Social Security: Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant. The fact sheet on Social Security and black women was produced in partnership with the Black Women’s Health Imperative.



The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies. IWPR is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that also works in affiliation with the women's studies and public policy programs at The George Washington University.



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