Elderly Poverty and Supplemental Security Income

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In the United States, poverty is generally assessed on the basis of income, as reported in the Current Population Survey’s (CPS’s) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), using an official poverty standard established in the 1960s. The prevalence of receipt of means-tested transfers is underreported in the CPS, with uncertain consequences for the measurement of poverty rates by both the official standard and by using alternative “rela¬tive” measures linked to the contemporaneous income distribution. The article reports results estimating the prevalence of poverty in 2002. We complete this effort by using a version of the 2003 CPS/ASEC for which a substantial majority (76 percent) of respondents have individual records matching administrative data from the Social Security Administration on earnings and receipt of income from the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Adjustment of the CPS income data with adminis-trative data substantially improves coverage of SSI receipt. The consequence for general poverty is sensitive to the merge procedures employed, but under both sets of merge procedures considered, the estimated poverty rate among all elderly persons and among elderly SSI recipients is substantially less than rates estimated using the unadjusted CPS. The effect of the administrative adjustment is less significant for perception of relative poverty than for absolute poverty. We emphasize the effect of these adjustments on perception of poverty among the elderly in general and elderly SSI recipients in particular.

Suggested citation
Wiseman, Michael, and Nicholas, Joyce. “Elderly Poverty and Supplemental Security Income.” Social Security Bulletin. Vol. 69, No. 1, 2009, 45-73.