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Widows, Poverty, and Social Security Policy Options

By: Christina Smith FitzPatrick and Joan Entmacher
Published: August 2000
Social Security Brief No. 9 ~ August 2000

Summary: Older Americans are far less likely to be poor now than was the case 30 years ago. Yet elderly, nonmarried women, including widows, remain at high risk of living in poverty. About 60 percent of elderly poor women are widows. Raising the Social Security survivor benefit is one way to increase the economic security of many of them. This article examines four options for improving Social Security survivor benefits, identifying who would be affected by each proposal and the relative size of the benefit changes. Empirical research will be needed to assess the impact these proposals would have on poverty rates and other indicators of economic security.