- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

Data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau rebut lingering stereotypes that American seniors — the nation’s fastest growing population — are poor and unproductive.

Information prepared by the bureau for commemoration of Older Americans Month, which begins today, showed the net worth of U.S. households of those 65 and older was nearly $109,000 in 2000.

That compared with a net worth of slightly more than $7,200 for households with householders younger than 35.

“Net worth goes up with age. It peaks with the 70 to 74 age bracket at $120,000. So the nest egg is larger than ever when you pass age 65,” said Robert Bernstein, Census Bureau spokesman.

Although 68 percent of all occupied American homes are owned by the people living in them, that proportion is 81 percent among people 65 and older, census data show.

Data also indicate that 10.2 percent of Americans 65 and older were at or below the poverty level in 2003. The poverty rate for the general U.S. population was 12.5 percent.

Even more astounding, the poverty rate for people age 65 and older was lower than that for workers ages 18 to 64, which was 10.8 percent in 2003.

“Older Americans have a lower poverty rate than younger age groups,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Census officials were unable to explain the disparity.

But Steve Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies, offered several explanations.

“For one thing, working people often have kids, and poverty is much more likely to occur where children are present,” he said. “Social Security is designed to reduce poverty, so that’s another reason the elderly have a lower poverty rate. The elderly also have a lifetime to get ready.”

About 4.6 million Americans 65 and older — or 13 percent — were employed in October 2002, the census said.

“The stereotype is that everyone is retired and playing shuffleboard,” Mr. Bernstein said.

The median income of households with occupants 65 and older was less than $24,000 in 2003. That compares with a median income of $43,318 for all households. But if seniors are receiving Social Security benefits, they are limited in how much they can earn.

Another figure reflective of the industriousness of American seniors is that 73,000 Americans 65 and older are pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

This year’s celebration of Older Americans Month comes as the nation prepares for an explosion in the 65-and-older population as baby boomers reach retirement.

As of July last year, 36.3 million Americans were in that age range. They represent 12 percent of the population. But by 2050, the number of Americans 65 and older is expected to reach 86.7 million, or 21 percent of the population.

Although the U.S. population as a whole is projected to rise by 49 percent during the next 45 years, the increase for those 65 and older will be 147 percent during the same period.

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