Amy H. sent in a link to a Pew Research Center report on age and economic well-being in the U.S. The results indicate that over time, the economic situation has generally improved for older individuals in the U.S. Those over age 65 are much less likely to be poor today than they were a few decades ago, for instance:
Why the dramatic reduction beginning in the late 1960s? One important factor is the role of public policy. In 1965, the U.S. passed legislation establishing Medicare, which greatly increased access to medical care for the elderly regardless of income. Medical costs had previously been a major drain on savings; a significant illness could quickly eliminate a lifetime’s savings. Medicare reduced the risk posed by medical expenses and the percent of income spent on health care among the elderly.
Today, retirement-age Americans have significantly higher net worth than those under age 35, and the gap has widened since the 1980s. The younger age group actually lost ground, with a lower median net worth in 2009 than in 1984:
Of course, we expect individuals to become better off economically over time as they settle into jobs, save for retirement, perhaps pay off a home so that housing expenses go down. But the improving economic well-being of older Americans isn’t just a natural outcome of the lifecourse; it reflects changing public policies that have over time increasingly allowed the elderly to access medical care and other services without impoverishing themselves in the process.