The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), an alternative calculation of the federal poverty level recently developed by the US Census Bureau, estimates that 16% of seniors live in poverty. Although the new measure incorporates other costs, such as out-of-pocket medical expenses, it is still a measure that looks at economic deprivation, rather than economic security – the true cost of being able to make ends meet, and for elders, to age in place with dignity.
The SPM is a step in the right direction in that it acknowledges that the current system of measuring poverty is outdated. Based on food costs alone, the current federal poverty level does not incorporate geographic variability in costs of living. As an example, most recognize that it costs more for a senior in New York City to make ends meet than for one in Charleston, West Virginia. The SPM is a more accurate than the current federal poverty level since it does include a geographic variability component.
However, the Supplemental Poverty Measure does not measure economic security: “Now is the time to move past simply measuring what it means to be deprived to what it means to be secure,” WOW’s Executive Director Joan Kuriansky stated. This requires a more comprehensive measure.
Wider Opportunities for Women uses the Elder Index to look at specific costs for elders: housing, transportation, food, health care costs and miscellaneous expenses. The tool is used at the local level to look at the true costs of living and what it takes elders to be economically secure within their community. Furthermore, it can serve as a planning tool to help future retirees gauge what is needed to age in place in their community of choice.