Published March 1973 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Elderly Hit Hardest by Rising Costs All Americans have suffered at the hands of inflation, rising costs, and increased taxes in recent years; but the nation's older citizens have been especially hard hit. A full 25 percent of the 20 million Americans age 65 or older have annual incomes below the official poverty levels, that is, incomes less than $2,000 for persons living alone, or less than $2,600 for couples. And those figures are used to represent abject poverty. In order to maintain an acceptable standard of living, the U.S. Department of Labor says a retired couple needs $4,489 annually. Forty percent of our older citizens have incomes below that level. The economic burden under which older Americans are trying to exist is obvious, and alleviating that burden must be given the highest priority by the Federal government. The 92nd Congress moved in that direction by raising social security benefits by 32 percent, but more needs to be done. Better housing for the elderly is sorely needed, since an estimated six million older persons reside in homes or apartments classified as inadequate. Less than 400,000 low-cost housing units for the elderly were built in the decade 1962-1972; yet, 120,000 new units are needed annually. And some form of tax relief for older citizens must be found. In 1971, retired persons with annual incomes less than $5,000 paid more than $1.5 billion in property taxes alone. Obviously, any increase in taxes will plummet these citizens further i n to t h c depths of economic despair. Finally, the whole problem of inflation must be solved. Increases in retirement benefits have not kept pace with increases in costs of consumer products-and even a penny increase in the cost of a loaf of bread or a quart of milk often means that older citizens have to skimp a little more to make ends meet. Poverty among our elderly is extremely cruel, because most of these citizens spent the majority of their lives contributing to the economic growth of our nation. They should not have to spend their retirement years with no rewards for their labors. And the poverty is unnecessary. Between 1958-1968, the number of elderly on the poverty rolls decreased annually. It has only been since 1968 that an increase in the number of elderly below the poverty level has occurred. America has the resources to correct this situation. It must also have the will.