WASHINGTON -- The best evidence yet of the widening economic gulf between the old and the young during the 1980s was provided yesterday in newly released Census Bureau data that showed the elderly held their own during the decade's economic ups and downs while the nation's children increasingly slid into poverty.
The data show a detailed portrait of the redistribution of poverty among the generations. As the number of people beneath the poverty line grew by 4.3 million to more than 31 million between 1979 and 1989, increasing numbers of the poor were children. One in four of entrants into the ranks of the poor in the 1980s was under 18 years of age; one in 25 was 65 or older.
Martha Farnsworth Riche, director of the Population Reference Bureau, a private Washington-based research organization, said the elderly fared relatively well because the federally financed safety net was held relatively intact for them.
"The indexing of Social Security payments to inflation was probably the single biggest factor that got people out of poverty," Ms. Riche said.
The nation's adults had higher percentages of high school and college graduates, and the percentage of high school dropouts had declined from 13 percent to 11 percent.
The figures make up a snapshot of the nation's economic health just before the current recession began, but the trends reflected the census are continuing, according to more recent data.