New report shows more senior citizens in the Mid-south living below the poverty line

Poverty in Memphis (Source: WMC)
Poverty in Memphis (Source: WMC)
Updated: May. 21, 2019 at 6:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - New data on poverty in Memphis and Shelby County shows an increase in the number of people 65 and older living below the poverty line.

Richard Kuecker works two to three days a week at the Mid-South Food Bank. He retired a decade ago from work as a custodian, but he’s back in the labor force at 72 years old.

“I went down to the unemployment and they really didn’t have anything for people in there for senior citizens,” said Kuecker.

He makes $150 a week at the Food Bank. It’s modest pay, but he depends on the money.

When Kuecker took the job a year ago he was supporting himself and his wife with just his social security check -- an annual income of $9,000, which is more than $7,000 below the federal poverty level.

Kuecker says he retired with next to nothing in savings. He’s part of a growing senior population in Memphis struggling to make ends meet.

According to the 2018 Memphis Poverty report, while the overall number of Mid-Southerners living below the poverty level decreased between 2016 and 2017, the number of people 65 or older living in poverty increased by 25 percent.

“This is absolutely shocking,” said Dr. Elena Delavega, the University of Memphis professor who published the report.

Delavega believes the increase in aging poor is a direct result of the economic downturn in 2008 during a “critical juncture in their working lives.” She says people turned 65 with less accrued social security than previous generations, and the numbers are even worse for women.

“A lot of Memphians, particularly African American women, if they work as domestics and did not qualify, did not buy into the social security system, they are now arriving to elder years without any social security benefits,” said Delavega.

The Aging Commission of the Mid-South helps seniors with basic food, housing and in-home care. Executive director Kim Daugherty says she’s seen first-hand how the number of seniors in need has grown.

“We never have enough resources to take care of everyone that asks for assistance,” said Daugherty. “We place people on our waiting lists. Depending on what services you’re asking for it can take years.”

So for seniors like Kuecker, it’s back to work. He didn’t retire with a pension, and his 401(k) is empty.

“I ran short of money, so I had to cash out and stuff,” he said.

In his golden years, Kuecker is walking to work with two bad knees. He can’t afford a car and he can’t afford to stop working.

If you’re a senior and you’d like help from the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, call (901) 222-4111 for more information.

Call (901) 222-5875 for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office’s Senior Services or email

Click here for a list of meal sites served by the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association.

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