WASHINGTON — In 2021, poverty in America decreased almost across the board.
One group stood out as the lone exception.
"The census demonstrated that last year, the only group to see an increase in poverty was older adults," said Ramsey Alwin, President and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
"People 65 and older were the only group for which poverty increased, from 8.9% to 10.3%," she added.
Alwin estimates that nearly six million seniors now live below the poverty line.
"It's a generation that built our nation, built our economy, built our communities, built our families," said Alwin.
That generation is struggling.
According to Alwin, the average social security payment is currently around $1,600 per month.
Many have to make do almost exclusively on those checks.
"One in four older adults rely on social security for 90 percent or more of their income," said Alwin.
To stretch that limited budget, some are forced to make difficult choices.
"Whether it be turning down the heat or the cooling, depending on the region, cutting pills in half, scrimping on nutritious foods—they're very resourceful," said Alwin. "But they're absolutely sacrificing their health."
An 8.7% cost of living increase to social security payments, which shakes out to roughly an extra $140 per month for the average recipient, is set to go into effect January.
Alwin thinks that should provide some relief for seniors, but says there are other resources already available that often go ignored.
"Every year, older adults leave...$16 billion in benefits on the table because they simply don't know about them," she said.
For example, according to data provided by NCOA Public Relations Manager Simona Combi, roughly 60% of seniors who qualify for SNAP benefits (formerly known as 'food stamps') "are missing out on benefits—an estimated 5 million people in all."
To see if you or someone you love qualifies for any benefits, you can visit the NCOA's Benefits Check Up website or call their hotline at 800-794-6559.
"It will screen for one's eligibility for thousands of programs and it can put anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars back in their wallet," said Alwin.