WAXAHACHIE, Tex. — Most Americans suffered serious losses during and after the recession, knocked off balance by layoffs, stagnant pay and the collapse of home values. But apart from the superrich, one group's fortunes appear to have held remarkably steady: seniors.
Supported by income from Social Security, pensions and investments, as well as an increasing number of paychecks from delaying retirement, older people not only weathered the economic downturn that began in 2007 but made significant gains, a New York Times analysis of government data has found.
As a result, America's middle class is graying.
People on the leading edge of the baby boom and those born during World War II — the 25 million Americans now between the ages of 65 and 74 — have emerged as particularly well positioned in the nation's economic timeline. While there are plenty of individual exceptions, as a group they are better off financially than past generations and may well enjoy a more successful old age than future ones, even those merely a decade younger.
"These are people who have been blessed with good economic circumstances, especially those who were able to ride the wave of postwar economic growth," said Gary V. Engelhardt, an economist at Syracuse. "They're definitely in a sweet spot."
Older Americans' ability to rise during the postrecession years when most households were falling reflects a broader trend that has unfolded in recent decades.
In the past, the elderly were usually poorer than other age groups. Now, they are the last generation to widely enjoy a traditional pension, and are prime beneficiaries of a government safety net targeted at older Americans. They also have profited from the long rise in real estate prices that preceded the recession. As a result, more seniors now fall into the middle class — defined in this case between the 40th and 80th income percentile — than ever before.
Median income for people 75 years and older has also risen, but not as much as it has for people in the 65-to-74 age group.