While some seniors are deferring retirement a few more years to build a larger nest egg, other seniors are facing a more immediate financial challenge: poverty.

More than 13 million older adults live in or on the edge of poverty, on less than $22,000 each year, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Even more significant is the number of seniors who have experienced an increase in economic insecurity. Seniors with incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) rose from 33.7%, or an estimated 13.0 million seniors, in 2009 to 34.6%, or an estimated 13.5 million seniors, in 2010, according to census figures.

Meanwhile, the number of seniors living below the 100% of the FPL increased from 3.4 million to 3.5 million during the same time period. Some individuals aged 65 and older have seen a rise in their incomes, mostly due to Social Security, as more and more Baby Boomers reach retirement age, according to the Census figures.    

"The reality is that there is an unseen crisis occurring in this country today," said Sandra Nathan, senior vice president for Economic Security at the National Council on Aging (NCOA). "And that is rising economic insecurity among older Americans."

"What the numbers have shown us is that economic insecurity for older adults has definitely increased," Nathan said.

NCOA officials also contend that the current official poverty measurement system also needs an update. Developed in the early 1960s, the Federal Poverty Level  measures poverty by comparing a family's income to a threshold level of need, which is based on food consumption patterns of 1955 and does not reflect current living standards, according to the NCOA.

The measure of income evaluated against this threshold does not reflect tax liabilities, out-of-pocket spending on health care, and other significant costs, nor does it account for important forms of public assistance. As a result, it does not adequately reflect who is poor, according to the NCOA.

If a more modernized measure of poverty were used, there would likely be an even larger proportion of older individuals living in poverty, according to the NCOA. This data was reflected in the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance released in 1995.

Over the past six months, NCOA has collected over 5,000 real stories and videos of older adults who are struggling economically through its One Away campaign for elder economic security. The campaign is  calling on Congress to pledge to protect and strengthen the Older Americans Act, which funds many programs that help seniors in need.

-Jim McConville