Economic State of 50+America: Report shows modest gains, uncertain future

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The economic state of Americans aged 50 years and older generally improved from a decade ago, but the picture is bleak in the most recent years, according to the American Association of Retired Persons? report card, ?The State of 50+ America 2006.? Negative changes in key economic indicators outnumber the positive. For example, median family income (adjusted for inflation) increased 11 percent over the past decade, to $35,200 from $31,800, just a 1 percent change per year at a time when real gross domestic product and total incomes grew between 3 percent and 4 percent per year.

This slower growth suggests that income inequality has greatly increased, the report says. Moreover, all the real income growth in the past decade occurred before 1998. Income for the typical family aged 50 and older has not increased in real terms in six years. In fact, median family income declined slightly between 2003 and 2004 for the group, the report says.

A more positive trend is that the percentage of those 50 years of age and older who are living above 200 percent of poverty (considered a minimally adequate standard of living) has increased by about 4 percentage points to 71.7 from 67.8 between 1994 and 2004. Median financial assets have shown the most impressive growth for the group, increasing 80 percent between 1992 and 2004.

Still, the future of 50+ America remains uncertain. Individuals are being required to take more responsibility for their own retirement, traditional pensions are in decline even as overall coverage inches up, retiree health benefits are being reduced or eliminated, the stock market is stagnant and threats to partially privatize Social Security, although they were turned back in 2005, are likely to resurface, the report says.

Key Indicators of Well-Being in Population 50+

Indicator
Indicator Year
Indicator Most Recent Year*
Previous Year
Historical Year**
Median family income (2004 dollars)
2004
$35,199
$35,746
$31,776
Median financial assets (2004 dollars)
2004
$48,383 est.
$45,790 est.
$26,820 (1992)
% of population above 200% of poverty
2004
71.7
71.6
67.8
% of the population age 62+ who receive more than half their income from sources other than Social Security
2004
50.1
49.5
48.1
Pension coverage rate
2004
49.9
49.5
47.3
Employment rate
2005
45.1
44.7
38.7
Labor force participation rate
2005
46.9
46.7
40.2
% better off financially than the year before
2005
15.0
15.0
NA
% confident in their retirement future
2005
76.0
76.0
NA
% reporting no increase in personal debt
2005
82.0
83.0
NA
% of expenditures for ?non-essentials?
2003
47.0
46.7
45.9 (1990)
% of population who use the Internet
2005
51.0
53.0
19.3 (1998)
% very satisfied with amount of contact with family, friends and neighbors
2005
71.0
71.0
NA
% who say their quality of life has improved during the past 12 months
2005
16.0
13.0
NA

* Same as the ?Indicator Year?
** 10 years prior to ?Most Recent Year? or ?Indicator Year,? unless otherwise noted.

Source: ?The State of 50+ America 2006,? AARP