My mom turned 83 in March, and I’m grateful for the comfortable life she lives. She’s overcome some major life blows, health scares, and unexpected changes, but despite all that, she knows she’s blessed.

Blessed to be living in her private mother-in-law’s home attached to my sister’s house, a reliable source of income, health insurance, a circle of friends, a pep in her step most days, and so much more. In other words, una buena vida (a good life) as she likes to say.

But, not every older adult, particularly older adults of color, gets to enjoy the good life. We are far from aging equity in the U.S.

Between 2010 and 2020, America’s older adult population (65 and over) grew at nearly twice the rate (39 percent) of the prior decade, according to the 2020 Census. The data revealed that aging is not “race-neutral.” We do not have aging equity. Although all race and ethnic groups are aging to some degree, the median age of white Americans was higher than all others in most geographic areas. In other words, many Black, Latino, Asian, and LGBTQ older adults endure greater challenges than their white counterparts.

While there are many contributing factors to explain why this reality exists in the 21st century, I thought it would be interesting to identify three areas of disparity to better understand what it’s like to age as a person of color.

Health Disparities

After a lifetime of racial and health inequities, Black and Hispanic older adults are at risk of spending their last years with declining health, little income, and limited savings. A CIGNA Health Disparities Report found that Black people are more than twice as likely as white people to suffer from Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia. Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women and Black men have a 40 percent higher cancer death rate than white men.

Similarly, an Alzheimer’s Association study projected that Latinos will have the steepest increase in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the next 40 years compared to other ethnic groups, affecting an estimated 3.2 million Latinos by 2060. According to the National Council on Aging, Latinos are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity compared to non-Latino whites. Diabetes, for instance, affects Latinos at a rate of 12.8 percent, significantly higher than the rate of 7.8 percent experienced by non-Latino whites.

According to a Pew Research Center survey of 12,147 U.S. adults conducted in summer 2022, some 7 percent of Americans identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, of which 5 percent of those surveyed were 50 to 64, and 2 percent were 65 and older. The National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging estimates that by 2030, there will be 7 million U.S. adults 65 and older who identify as LGBTQ.

An American Journal of Public Health study found that LGB older adults had a higher risk of disability, poor mental health, smoking, and excessive drinking than heterosexuals. Older lesbians often experience triple discrimination because of their status as women, older adults, and lesbians, while ethnic and racial minority LGBT older adults face a quadruple whammy.

Adult Care

From assisted living communities and senior apartments to nursing homes and memory care facilities, there are several housing options available for older adults. While options abound, results from a Brown University study suggests that a racial disparity in elder care options exists in the United States.

For this article, let’s look at nursing home facilities. The Brown University study found that between 1999 and 2008 the nation’s nursing home population shrank by 6.1 percent to just over 1.2 million people. In that time period, the number of white residents in nursing homes decreased by 10.2 percent nationwide, while the number of Black residents rose by 10.8 percent, the number of Hispanic residents rose by 54.9 percent, and the number of Asian residents rose by 54.1 percent.

At first blush, the analysis suggests that older Black, Hispanic, and Asian people are gaining greater access to nursing home care. But the growing proportion of minorities in nursing homes is coming about partly because they do not have the same access to more desirable forms of care as wealthier white people do, said the study’s lead author Zhanlian Feng, assistant professor of community health in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Furthermore, prior research has shown that nursing homes in predominately minority areas are often of lower quality and are more likely to close. At the same time, assisted living facilities are more likely to be built in areas where residents have high incomes.

According to a 2021 AARP survey, 41 percent of LGBTQ adults ages 45 and older were at least somewhat worried about having to hide their LGBTQ identity to access housing for older adults. Worry was most common among transgender and non-binary adults, with 58 percent expressing concern.

Poverty among older adults

Among Americans age 65+, poverty increased from 10.7% in 2021 to 14.1% in 2022, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. This jump translated to 1 million more older adults relying on scarce resources to survive the effects of contributing factors like rising inflation, and higher costs related to housing, utilities, groceries, and health care.

According to reports from the The Administration for Community Living Profile of Older Americans and Justice in Aging,

  • Nearly 1 in 10 people age 65+ lived below the poverty level. Another 2.6 million older adults were classified as “near-poor.”
  • Older women had a higher poverty rate (10.1 percent) than older men (7.6 percent). This is a result of wage discrimination and having to take time out of the workforce for caregiving.
  • The highest poverty rates were seen among older Hispanic women who lived alone (35.6 percent).
  • 8 percent of the older non-Hispanic white population was poor, compared to higher percentages of racially and ethnically underrepresented groups: 17.2 percent of African Americans, 11.5 percent of Asian Americans, and 16.6 percent of the Hispanic population (any race).

And unfortunately, poverty and hunger go hand in hand. According to the USDA, over 5 million older adults were food insecure in 2021. Older adults, who identify as Black, Latino, and Native American are more likely to experience hunger due to racism and discrimination.

Final thoughts on aging equity

Aging may be a universal truth and the ultimate life equalizer, but it is far from an equal experience for older adults of color and other marginalized identities. As I was researching and writing this blog, I was overcome with emotions. I am the daughter of Mexican parents who emigrated to the United States for a better life. Despite becoming US. citizens and contributing to the economic welfare of the country, I recalled the injustices and biases my parents endured with sadness.

Our world is riddled with injustices, inequities, and real human struggle. While it will take a monumental effort to right these wrongs, I invite you to be part of the solution versus the problem.

Be mindful of what you do, how you show up, and how you treat others in your every day – especially those that don’t look like you.

Guadalupe Hirt is a four-time entrepreneur, pro-aging advocate, and middlescence life strategist. Read her blogs on Changing the Narrative.

She pens the LinkedIn blog Dear Middlescent, a pro-aging stance on the beauty, truths, and opportunities of middlescence. She’s a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging honoree, Facebook Community Accelerator Alum, and Encore Network board member.

 

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