Over the last ten years, absolute poverty rates in the United States have climbed steadily from 12.1% in 2002 to 15.0% in 2011 according to Current Population Survey estimates (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2013). Meanwhile, as shown by Table 40.1, absolute poverty rates among those 65 years and over have fallen from 10.4% to 8.7% in the same time span (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2013). Amidst the decrease in absolute poverty overall among the elderly population, a closer examination of absolute poverty across racial-ethnic and gender lines further underscores the positive gains achieved for those 65 and over even while poverty among the general population continues to rise. Absolute poverty rates, for instance, among both White and Black elderly individuals (6.7% and 17.2%, respectively) currently stand at ten-year lows (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2013). In a similar vein, absolute poverty rates for both male and female elderly individuals (6.2% and 10.7%, respectively) are also the lowest that the United States has experienced over the past decade (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2013). To be sure, our public income maintenance programs designed to mitigate the effects of lost income upon old age have played a substantial role in these declines. Over the ten-year period in question, total annual benefits paid under Social Security (namely, Old Age Survivors Insurance) have increased from $388.1 billion in 2002 to $596.2 billion in 2011, while total annual benefits paid to aged recipients under Supplemental Security Income (the program of last resort for income-poor elderly) have similarly increased from $3.9 billion in 2002 to $4.9 billion in 2011-indeed a modest but significant aggregate sum for those who may face dire economic circumstances (U.S. Social Security Administration, 2013). Yet, while our public policies have been rather generous in protecting against lost income in old age for those with the requisite work history or significant ties to this country (i.e., U.S. citizens), there are still various segments within the elderly population that lag significantly in their levels of economic well-being. Part of the illusion of prosperous economic circumstances among the elderly stems from the public dissemination of statistics that rely on repeated cross-sections of poverty data. While the absolute poverty rates released annually by the Census Bureau are able to describe the financial situations of those who are in the midst of a spell of poverty in a given year, they do not describe how absolute poverty rates vary as individuals grow older. Thus while on its face absolute poverty appears to have diminished when looking at repeated cross-sections of elderly

Americans over this period, a longitudinal examination of absolute poverty among the elderly along racial-ethnic and gender lines reveals that poverty may be much more prevalent than the cross-sectional data suggest. As such, this study uses longitudinal data from the Rand version of the Health and Retirement Study spanning the years 2002-2010 to examine the risk of falling into poverty in old age and the extent to which these patterns vary along racial-ethnic and gender lines. Accordingly, prior longitudinal research examining transitions to poverty among the elderly reveals that single individuals (i.e., widows) and couples display quite different patterns as it is the initial transition from work to retirement that presents the greatest risk of becoming poor for couples, while the risk of becoming poor is approximately constant over time for widows (Burkhauser et al., 1991). This study extends prior work by examining the changing patterns of risk among various racial-ethnic and gender groupings.