Tennessee Seniors Struggle as Poverty is on the Rise


Poverty among seniors is up.

That statement is not a surprising statement as everything—EVERYTHING–has increased in cost, packaging of food has been reduced in size, and the purchasing power of the average American is extremely diminished.

In the 2023 Senior Report published by the United Health Foundation, data from 22 different sources which analyzed 52 separate measures, examined the health and well-being of older adults in America. The report features state summaries for all 50 states in addition to a national overview of data.

Tennessee ranked 42 overall compared to neighboring states, Alabama at 45 and Georgia at 38. The report looked at metrics that include personal safety, food insecurity, the cost of housing, the access and quality of healthcare, and behavioral assessments–like nutrition, tobacco, alcohol and drug use, and physical activity.

Areas of poorer outcomes with Tennessee seniors involve the use of tobacco, inadequate dental health, mental health issues, the shortage of personal care and senior care workers–such as nursing home staff–and insufficient physical activity to promote wellness.

Looking specifically at economic factors; however, in comparison to our neighbors in Alabama and Georgia, Tennessee fared better, but still in the lower half of the states nationally.

Alabama was shown to have 15.3% of the senior population (65 years old+) designated as food insecure with limited access to foods. Georgia was assessed to have 14.3% of the Peach State’s seniors experiencing food insecurity, in contrast to 13.6% of Tennessee seniors. The national average, however, is 11.8%, meaning there’s still need for improvement. But as costs of groceries soar and packaging shrinks, or “shrinkflation” destroys our budgets, the hope doesn’t appear on the immediate horizon.

Some good news for Tennessee seniors–despite the number still ranking our state’s elderly at #33, is that 10.3% of those 65 years and older live at or below the federal poverty level. For 2023, that annual income is only $14,580. So, one tenth of Tennessee’s seniors have less than $1,215 monthly to pay all their expenses without government aid.

In Alabama, 11.4% of seniors live below the poverty level and an even 10% in Georgia, as the national average is 10.4%.

Lots of numbers. But appreciate that the inflation, which has really been a recession for several weeks that has not been recognized by the academic types, has disproportionately had a greater harm to seniors whose income is fixed, yet their expenses have risen astronomically like others.

In metro areas where development of downtown and urban living has driven up property values and the cost of renting, leasing, and owning a home, the greatest impact hits seniors.

Policies by members of the City Council, County Commission, and the state and federal governments will be challenged in years ahead as this population swells. By 2030, in less than 7 years, more than 25% of the entire Tennessee population will be 60 years or older, according to the TN Commission on Aging and Disability.  Seniors will also be voting for their best interests.