A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans 50 and Older

by Jeffer Giang, Research Analyst in the Demographic Research Project (DRP) for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA.

Those who work with older adults may generally know that the population is growing in size very quickly. In fact, Los Angeles County’s entire 50-plus population grew 28% between 2000 and 2010. What most people don’t know is that the Asian American 50-plus population grew 56% during the same time. In contrast, the entire population of Los Angeles County saw 3% growth during this time while the general Asian American population saw 20% growth.

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In other words, the Asian American 50-plus population grew twice as fast as the general 50-plus population and almost three times faster than the total Asian American population countywide. The Asian American 50-plus population in the county numbers over 480,000 and makes up 18% of the general older adult population.

AARP and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles recently partnered to produce the report, A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans 50 and Older (Los Angeles County).This report provides invaluable information on the county’s aging Asian American population and makes it easily accessible to key stakeholders at a time when this population is booming. The report also provides data disaggregated on eight different Asian American ethnic groups, showing a diverse aging population with diverse needs.

This report relies heavily on data from the Census Bureau, including the 2000 Census, 2010 Census, and the 2009-2013 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS). PUMS data allowed for more specific cross-tabulations that enabled analysis by specific ethnic groups, by age, by particular socioeconomic characteristics, and within a smaller geography like Los Angeles County.

In addition to revealing that this population is growing at an alarming rate, this new report highlights many other reasons why direct service providers, community based organizations, and policymakers should pay attention. Contrary to ‘model minority’ stereotypes, Asian American older adults face many socio-economic challenges. Below, we can see a chart from the report on poverty and low-income status.

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Surprisingly, Korean American seniors have higher rates of low-income status (57%) compared to the general Korean American population in Los Angeles County (31%, not pictured in the chart). This senior-specific issue would not have been revealed without data disaggregated both by age and ethnic group.

Such economic challenges may be exacerbated due to language and educational barriers which may limit access to critical services. Approximately 89% of 50-plus Asian Americans in the county are immigrants, a rate higher than any other racial group. Charts on limited English proficiency and educational attainment from the report can be seen below.

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Here, we can see that Cambodian and Vietnamese American older adults have the highest levels of limited English proficiency. Both high limited English proficiency and diverse levels of formal education found among Asian Americans 50-plus should inform the ways this community should be engaged through outreach and education efforts.

Here are some concrete examples where this would be important:

  • Mental health and substance abuse programs: 57% of older-adult Asian Americans in Los Angeles County needing to see a professional for mental health or substance abuse issues do not receive treatment.
  • Economic security: Asian American seniors are among those least likely to have retirement incomes or Social Security income. As such, they are most likely to rely Supplemental Security income.
  • Affordable housing: Some Asian American older adults are also most likely to spend 50% or more of their incomes on housing costs.

Better outreach and educational efforts that are culturally and linguistically-appropriate could help address these disparities, whether it may be destigmatizing mental health care, improving financial literacy, or organizing community members to advocate for more affordable housing.

Member of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council’s (A3PCON) Older Adults Task Force, including Little Tokyo Service Center and SSG SILVER, have already used this report to educate county and city department heads and will be sharing it with the Mayor’s office for an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month event.

While this report aims to provide valuable information to direct service providers, community based organizations, and policymakers to better improve the lives of the Asian American older adult population in Los Angeles County, this is only the beginning. Smaller data sample sizes meant that Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups could not be included for a majority of the report. Many Asian American ethnic groups could not be included for the same reason.

There needs to be a push for quality data collection and analyses on other vulnerable populations within the Asian American and NHPI older adult populations, including our LGBT and homeless community members. This report found that Asian American older adults living alone in Los Angeles County are almost four times more likely than those living with others to be living in poverty. Consider how vulnerable LGBT Asian American older adults may be if discrimination in the workplace and with family is an issue, making financial security a serious concern. Similarly, with the amount of financial insecurity that already exists for some Asian American older adult groups, there could be a serious risk of homelessness for some groups.

Although this report provides important information on Asian American older adults in Los Angeles County at a crucial moment in time, it is only a stepping stone towards better understanding and improving the well-being of this community.

A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans 50 and Older (Los Angeles County) is available online at http://www.aarp.org/home-family/voices/asian-community or www.advancingjustice-la.org/demographics

 

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.