Somos los líderes de nuestra familia y comunidad — and we need the support of our nation’s leaders.
(TRANSLATION: We are the leaders of our families and communities.)
Language. Culture. Family-centered. These values characterize the growing Hispanic aging population in the U.S. Hispanic seniors represent 7% of the U.S. older adult population, and by 2050, they will make up 20%.
Although the Hispanic population is mistakenly viewed as homogeneous, the daily realities, cultural difference and socio-economic factors among Hispanic older adults vary significantly. The term “Hispanic” encompasses many different cultures and lineages that range from the Caribbean to South America to North America, and more. Patience, dedication, and cultural, linguistic, and age sensitivity are necessary to understand and work with this hard-to-reach population.
While there is a lot to celebrate for Hispanic older adults, there are also severe challenges. A history of low-earnings, language barriers and access to health care can be roadblocks to successful aging for Hispanic older adults. Here are three of the biggest challenges facing Hispanic elders today:
Low education levels and language barriers are factors that have historically kept many Hispanic elders in low-wage and low-benefits jobs. Therefore, many Hispanic elders face economic insecurity, poverty, the threat of hunger and general inability to save for retirement. Because of these issues, Hispanic elders are more likely to be partially to entirely dependent on Social Security income than their peers. Without Social Security income, half of Hispanic older adults would live in poverty. Further, given that many Hispanic elders worked in labor-intensive jobs that had physical effects on their bodies, re-entering the workforce can also be difficult if they are not physically capable.
Language barriers, social isolation, and a lack of understanding about federal and state policy systems keep many Hispanic older adults from engaging in local mainstream advocacy efforts. However, this tendency does not align with Latino cultural norms and views; respect and honor for older adults is a pillar of the Hispanic community’s value system. While Hispanic older adults have influenced their families and communities, there remains a pressing need to integrate their leadership into city and state advocacy campaigns.
Hispanic older adults face a number of disproportionate health challenges, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer and more. While some of these challenges are genetic, others can be managed and prevented through diet and exercise. Health care access is also essential. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, 1 out of 3 Hispanics lacked health insurance, affecting their ability to access regular preventive checkups and consultations. Further, even those with healthcare access face challenges such as linguistic and cultural gaps between the healthcare provider and patient, which affects one’s health outcomes.
As in many diverse communities, there are barriers that must be addressed to ensure older adults can age securely, with dignity, greater self-sufficiency, and in the best possible health. In light of the aging Hispanic population’s accelerated growth— and that of other diverse aging communities— it is imperative for the public, private, and government sectors to recognize the changing demographic reality that is upon us.
As a member of the Diverse Elders Coalition, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) understands that we must work collectively and diligently toward policy and programmatic changes that reflect the face of today’s diverse aging America, and allow all older Americans to thrive in their golden years.
For more information about Hispanic older adults, visit the website of our member organization National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) at nhcoa.org.