Boston’s Older Population: Increasing in Racial Diversity, but Quality of Life is Shaped by Racism, Discrimination

A new report from UMass Boston identifies aging equity among Boston residents

The number of Boston residents aged 60 and older has increased by more than one-third in the last eight years and more than half of older residents are persons of color. However the experiences of these older residents differ substantially depending on race, ethnicity and gender, and challenges their abilities to thrive.

A new report, “Aging Strong for All: Examining Aging Equity in the City of Boston,” by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston, documents disparities across three dimensions that impact quality of life — economic security, health, social engagement — and identifies opportunities for stakeholders to ensure an environment in which “aging strong” is possible for all Boston residents. Jan Mutchler

“It has never been more critical to strategically pursue greater equity in the aging experience of Boston residents,” says Jan Mutchler, PhD, director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at UMass Boston, a professor in the Department of Gerontology and one of the study’s authors. “The numbers of older adults are increasing and stakeholders share a growing recognition of the powerful ways in which inequity, racism, and discrimination shape health outcomes and the aging experience, amplifying the need to examine and remediate disparities in aging.”

The report identifies substantial disparities across racial and ethnic groups, such as:

Economic security

  • Poverty rates are especially high among Asian Americans and Latinos, and more than one-third of these residents age 60 or older live in households with incomes below the federal poverty line.
  • Sizable gaps differentiate racial groups. For example, while a similar share of non-Hispanic White, Black and Native American people aged 66 or older receive Social Security benefits, percentages receiving Social Security are considerably lower for Latinos and Asian Americans.
  • Housing costs in Boston place a heavy burden on older residents and half or more of renters age 60 or older pay more than 30% of their incomes for housing. Fewer homeowners bear such a heavy cost burden for housing, but older Black, Latino and Native American homeowners are at amplified risk for being cost-burdened.

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Elder Index at Work: Helping Improve Access to Medicare Savings Programs in Massachusetts

multigeneration portraitThis article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

The cost of health care is one of the most common economic problems facing older adults across America. In more serious cases, it can lead to a bleak choice between paying for medicine or affording other basic needs.

These are familiar facts of elder life to the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, a grass roots organization focused on public policy and community issues affecting the health and well-being of older adults.

Research on policy options to address the problem led the council to focus on Medicare Savings Programs, which help qualified beneficiaries with health costs. Though the programs are run by the federal government, states have the ability to change eligibility standards for their older adults.

The council launched a campaign to make the Medicare Savings Programs available to more Massachusetts elders. It took years but finally paid off when Gov. Charlie Baker signed the state’s 2020 budget, which included a policy that now offers an estimated 40,000 older adults access to more than $150 million in new annual benefits.

A key resource in the successful effort: The University of Massachusetts Boston’s Elder Index, a free online tool that provides realistic and detailed cost of living data for older adults living in every U.S. state and county. Continue reading

Transforming the Future of Aging

Bei Wu works toward improving health status through research and policy

If the world of academic gerontology had a rock star, it would be Bei Wu, MS ‘97, PhD ’00.

Recognized for her extensive research and pursued by top tier universities, Wu has become an international leader in the field since graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Department of Gerontology. Add the years in policy work before earning her doctorate and Wu chuckles that, having spent more than half of her life in the field of gerontology, she herself is now experiencing the aging process.

“I’ve become my own study subject,” Wu says.

Today, Wu is the Director of Global Health and Aging Research at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and Director for Research at the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University (NYU) and the inaugural co-director of NYU’s Aging Incubator, a university-wide aging initiative.

Given her considerable success in gerontology, it’s fitting she credits her grandmother — with whom she was extremely close — for nudging her into the field. Born in Shanghai, Wu’s parents left her and her brother in their grandparents’ care when the two were young. After college, Wu accepted a research position with the Shanghai Commission on Aging only after prompting by her grandmother.

“At the time, very few people thought aging would be a challenging issue in the future,” Wu says.

But writing policy briefs and launching studies on intergenerational support with the United Nations Population Fund convinced Wu to pursue graduate studies. With no options available in China, she chose UMass Boston.

“UMass Boston has had a significant impact on my career,” Wu says. “The gerontology program has a critical mass of excellent faculty.” Continue reading

Pension Rights

Help is available to secure your pension

Whether your retirement is close at hand or years away, you’re likely counting on savings and other income sources you’ve maintained to provide you with a comfortable and secure life after working for years. If you’re counting on a pension, take steps now to make certain it’s in place and available when you decide to retire.

A defined benefit pension is a retirement plan that may provide monthly income for the rest of your life. Pensions are sponsored by your employer and provided to you based on your years of service, compensation and other factors. Unlike a 401(k), the employer bears all of the risk and responsibility for funding the pension plan. But, employers can make mistakes.

Take the case of William, a Pension Action Center client.

William worked for a company outside of Chicago off and on for about 20 years. He had two breaks in service that resulted from factory-wide reductions in force. After the first layoff, he was recruited back, because the factory needed someone with his specialized skills. When he was laid off again, he had worked about 12 years in total, and was fully vested in the company’s pension plan.

In the mid-1980s, the company that owned the factory decided to close it down permanently. The company again recruited William back to help with the closure. He understood that his brief return would increase his pension benefit at retirement.

But the employer made a big mistake. When personnel matters were wrapped up for the remaining factory employees, William’s service credit for his pension was recorded based on his short return to his employer to close down the factory. The employer did not credit him with the 12 years of service from earlier in his career. As a result, William was not included on the list of employees who had earned a pension. Continue reading

Raising awareness, enabling support for unpaid caregivers

Family caregivers have an important job; supporting their needs will make their work and lives easier

Imagine caring for a child with medically-complex special needs while balancing responsibilities for other family members and trying to maintain a full-time job. Or, consider caring for a parent with dementia whose needs take time away from one’s own family and work.

These are examples of family caregivers —unpaid, and often, untrained — who help parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities, and other family members with varied needs such as bathing and dressing, managing medications and more complex medical care, and everyday tasks such as preparing meals and keeping track of finances. These are just a few examples of the work they take on so their loved one can receive the care and supervision needed and remain at home.

There are more than 43 million people nationwide who serve as unpaid caregivers. The tasks caregivers take on, as well as the caregivers themselves, are diverse. Given the critical role they play in the continuum of care, it is important to understand how to assist and support their work. To do this, the National Academy for State Health Policy contracted with the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and Community Catalyst to learn what specific services and supports caregivers need and to develop recommendations for change.

Pamela Nadash, PhD, Associate Professor of Gerontology at the LeadingAge LTSS Center at UMass Boston and Eileen J. Tell, a Gerontology Institute Fellow, the project’s co-leads, were part of the team that analyzed the more than 1600 responses.

The research team began by analyzing over 1600 responses from family caregivers and caregiver organizations collected from a recent Request for Information (RFI). The RFI asked respondents to talk about their most pressing needs or concerns as a caregiver and what they would specifically recommend to address those concerns. Continue reading

Book Investigates the Pandemic and its impact on Older Adults

Journal of Aging and Social Policy special edition examines scope,
impact and lessons drawn from Covid-19 for older adults

A special double-issue of the Journal of Aging and Social Policy (JASP) that focused on Covid-19 has been released as a book. “Older Adults and Covid-19: Implications for Aging Policy and Practice” provides 28 articles written by leading gerontology researchers. The authors offer perspectives from around the globe on a host of issues surrounding the virus and its impact on older adults, their families, caregivers, and communities.

Edward Alan Miller

Editor-in-chief Edward A. Miller

Originally published in June 2020, this issue’s release as a book by Taylor & Francis Publishing indicates that the critical questions raised and the policy changes proposed to protect this vulnerable population moving forward deserve continued attention.

“This book is important because nearly everything addressed in the special issue six months ago is still relevant today which reflects poorly in our response as a nation,” said Edward Alan Miller, PhD, a professor at UMass Boston and editor-in-chief of JASP.

As Miller points out in the book’s introduction, older adults have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Exposure to the virus has resulted in older adults dying in disproportionately higher numbers, especially in long-term care facilities. Government-mandated actions to lessen the impact of the virus on older adults have had adverse consequences such as increased social isolation, separation from family members, enhanced economic risk, and challenges getting basic needs met. Continue reading

Celebrate the New Year with a Free Film Series

Programs offering community for older adults available online through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston

Watching a funny movie and discussing it with others may seem like an activity we can’t participate in given the Covid-19 pandemic. But, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UMass Boston has a film series to keep you engaged and connected all winter. The films are free and available for anyone to download from home.

Jim Hermelbracht

This January and February, OLLI is pleased to offer prospective and current members several programs free of charge to be enjoyed in the comfort and safety of your home. Part of UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute, OLLI provides lifelong learning, trips, and social activities for individuals over age 50.

“We are creating opportunities for all members — and future members — to stay engaged during the winter,” says Jim Hermelbracht, Director of OLLI at UMass Boston. “All programs will be held via Zoom and are free.”

Winter programs take place in January and February and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Members are encouraged to use the OLLI online registration system to sign up for events. Non-members interested in exploring OLLI’s programs or the winter film series should contact the OLLI office (ollireg@gmail.com) to register.

This year’s winter film series, “Exploring Humor: How Funny Is It?” runs for six weeks, beginning Tuesday, January 12. The movies are all free and available on Kanopy. Attendees may choose to watch films any time and join the group on Zoom for discussion and conversation each Tuesday at 12:30 pm or watch the film with others via Zoom at 10:30 am. Instructions to download the movies will be provided. Continue reading

Elder Index at Work: Helping Advocates Address Healthcare Affordability in Washington State

multigeneration portraitThis article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

By Taryn Hojlo

Medicare is an important resource for millions of older Americans, but that benefit isn’t free and it certainly doesn’t eliminate all other healthcare expenses elders face.

In Washington State, more than a million people were enrolled for Medicare benefits in 2018 and that number has been climbing, as it has across the country as the United States continues to grow older. Some of those people have found Medicare a particular economic challenge.

Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit organization based in Seattle, is focused on older Washington residents who saw some existing healthcare-related benefits eliminated once they enrolled in Medicare. Recently, it has been using the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Elder Index to supplement research and advocacy work around the issue.

“We call it the Medicare cliff,” said Ann Vining, a staff attorney at the organization that has been advocating for affordable, quality health care for all Washington residents since 1999. “If you’re in some relatively lower income brackets, you have some access to some subsidies that you lose when you go onto Medicare.” Continue reading

Elder Index Shows Limits of Social Security to Help Older Adults Afford Basic Cost of Living

Jan MutchlerSocial Security is a critical economic resource for most older Americans but those payments don’t cover even a bare-bones budget in a single county in the United States.

The degree to which Social Security payments can help elders make ends meet depends both on individual circumstances and basic geography. An updated analysis, using the Elder Index™ developed at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute, recently examined Social Security’s ability to cover basic elder expenses in every U.S. county and state.

“Social Security is incredibly important to older Americans as an economic safety net but it doesn’t fully cover the cost of living anywhere,” said Professor Jan Mutchler. “The effectiveness of that safety net varies a great deal across the county and among individuals. In many cases, it falls far short.” Continue reading

Help for locating your “lost” 401(k) account

No one intentionally loses money or leaves it behind. Yet, Americans have left billions of dollars in unclaimed 401(k) accounts. You may have changed jobs and, in the rush to wrap things up or accommodate a move to another state, neglected to take your account information with you.

Regardless of how or when this happened, there are a number of steps you can take to try to recover your account. The Pension Action Center at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute provides free legal counseling to people living in one of the six New England states and Illinois and has successfully helped people recoup more than $60 million in retirement benefits. While not always a simple task, they can help you to locate your 401(k).

“People lose track of their 401(k) for a variety of reasons,” says Anna-Marie Tabor. “But, there are steps you can take to track down and claim your money. It may take some time and research, but this is money you earned and saved for your retirement.  When it’s time to retire, you will be glad you invested the time to try and locate it now.”

Among the first steps to take, make sure that you did not already cash out or rollover your 401(k) years ago. Reach out to your former employer.

“Keeping your 401(k) statements and previous tax returns provides you with some paperwork to document that you have an account,” says Tabor. “Your old paystubs may also show that you contributed to a 401(k).” Continue reading