A Better Economy for All Generations

The recent Census Bureau report on income and poverty contained encouraging news for people of all ages: Incomes rose and poverty declined for all generations between 2014 and 2015, improvements of a magnitude we have not seen in decades.

The important fact that children and adults shared in the gains was not emphasized in media coverage of Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015. Yet the broadly inclusive nature of these advances matters a great deal if you care about fairness in the U.S. economy.

After years of stagnation, incomes rose significantly at all age levels.

Median income grew 4.3 percent for households headed by someone age 65 or older, and grew an even better 4.6 percent for younger households. For the 65-plus households, last year's median income was $38,515.

Median income for all U.S. households was $56,516 in 2015, still lower than it was in 2007, $57,423 - before the recession.

But incomes are finally moving in the right direction.

In another encouraging sign, all age groups benefited from a decline in poverty.

The poverty rate fell by 1.1 percentage points in 2015 for Americans ages 18-64, and it fell by the same amount for those over 65. It dropped further - by 1.4 percentage points - for those under age 18. Overall, 3.5 million fewer Americans were living in poverty last year than in 2014.

That's good news. But while the Census report is encouraging, it is not a reason to celebrate. Over 43 million Americans still live below the poverty line, including nearly 9 million children - 17 percent of kids - and 3 million or 7 percent of seniors.

We can do better. It's crucial that our nation maintain effective policies to help all generations lead financially secure lives.

We need to make sure the safety net remains sturdy and responsive to the needs of the 21st century, even when budgets are tight. Research shows that when young people receive the right social supports, including health care, nutrition and education, the cumulative positive effects last a lifetime.

And let's not forget that Social Security is the overwhelming reason the poverty rate for older adults is lower than that of children. Social Security alone keeps about one in three seniors above the poverty line. But the system's trustees have reported that in 2034 benefits will be cut across the board, unless changes are made.

That is why AARP has been pushing the presidential candidates to give more details on how they would keep the program financially sound. Whatever changes may be in store in the future, benefits must remain adequate or the poverty rate will rise once again.