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.

Continue reading

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

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

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

Nearly Two-Thirds of Older Black Americans Can’t Afford to Live Alone Without Help – and it’s Even Tougher for Latinos

Jan MutchlerThis article originally appeared on The Conversation, a non-profit independent online news organization.

By Jan Mutchler

Older Americans who want to live independently face serious economic challenges. Half who live alone don’t have enough income to afford even a bare-bones budget in their home communities, and nearly 1 in 4 couples face the same problem.

Those numbers add up to at least 11 million older adults who are struggling to make ends meet, a new analysis shows.

The numbers are worse for older people of color. Dramatically higher percentages of Black, Latino and Asian older adults live on incomes that don’t meet their cost of living, even with Social Security. That can mean skipping needed health care, not having enough food, living in unhealthy conditions or having to move in with family.

These disparities often reflect lifelong disadvantages that add up as people of color encounter structural racism and discrimination that shape their ability to buy property and save for the future.

To calculate realistic rates of economic insecurity and estimate the disparities, my colleagues and I used the Elder Index, created by the University of Massachusetts Boston to measure the true cost of living for older adults. It tracks expenses for housing, health care, transportation, food and other basics, county by county. We paired the index with state-level income data to determine the percentage of people who don’t have enough income to cover their cost of living. Continue reading

Elder Index at Work: Defending Property Tax-Relief Programs for Older Homeowners in New Jersey

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.

Late this spring, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy faced a big problem that was all too familiar to other governors across America. The staggering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had created a state budget crisis, with unemployment soaring and new annual revenue projections falling billions of dollars short.

Murphy approached the problem by moving back the start of New Jersey’s next fiscal year from July to October and passing a three-month stop-gap budget to tide the state over. Included in the short-term budget: Cuts to two important property tax-relief programs that help older adults in New Jersey afford to remain in their homes.

This was no small detail. New Jersey homeowners pay the nation’s highest property tax rates, about twice the U.S. average. Nearly 580,000 homeowners benefitted from one of the  programs under the axe and 158,000 others took advantage of the other. Both programs primarily benefitted older homeowners and the combined impact of the cuts was expected to exceed $480 million.

Melissa Chalker, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation For Aging, understood all that. Along with AARP New Jersey and other advocates, Chalker immediately launched a campaign to convince the governor and state legislators to restore the critical programs. One of her key tools in advocacy calls and letters: The Elder Index. Continue reading

UMass Boston Report Finds Far Greater Rates of Economic Insecurity Among Older Adults of Color

Jan MutchlerThe challenging goal of elder economic security – having enough income to live independently and afford a no-frills budget in later life —  is dramatically more difficult for older adults of color across America, new research from the University of Massachusetts Boston shows.

Half of all older adults living alone and 23 percent of older couples are unable to achieve that goal and live with some degree of economic insecurity, according to the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute. A new report calculating racial disparities within those numbers shows rates of economic insecurity among Black, Latino and Asian older adults far exceeding those of white adults and the overall national average.

The report also details the economic insecurity levels of older adults of color in individual states and the states in which racial disparities are greatest.

“Economic security is a serious problem for older adults across the United States,” said professor Jan Mutchler, the lead author of the UMass Boston report. “But the situation is much more dire among older adults of color and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has almost certainly made their economic circumstances even worse.” Continue reading

Economic Hardship From COVID-19 Will Hit Minority Seniors the Most

This article first appeared over the summer on The Conversation website. Marc Cohen is co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. Jane Tavares is a research fellow at the center.

By Marc Cohen and Jane Tavares

For Americans 60 and older, COVID-19 is widespread and deadly. Its economic impact could also be devastating.

With a recession fast developing, much of the attention on the downturn focuses on working-age adults, but many older Americans – with less time to make up for financial losses – will suffer the most.

I am a clinical professor of gerontology. My co-author is a research fellow in gerontology. We believe that recent history, specifically the Great Recession of 2008-09, will demonstrate what’s at stake. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute teams with CANALA for Project to Improve Economic Opportunities for Older People of Color

Caitlin CoyleAARP Foundation has awarded a grant to the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston for a two-year project to increase access to economic opportunities for older people of color in the greater Boston area.

The $288,000 grant will fund the project that builds on the institute’s age-friendly work across the state, particularly the Age Friendly Boston Initiative, and its expertise in economic security issues in later life.

“We’re very excited because this project addresses economic security, a crucial need facing older adults,” said Caitlin Coyle, a research fellow at the institute and lead researcher on the project.

“It begins to answer a question we have encountered in a number of age-friendly community initiatives,” she said. “The question is, from a practical perspective, how do we build the capacity for authentic equity and inclusion?”

The project will be a joint effort by the institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging and CANALA, a research collaboration of UMass Boston’s Institute for Asian American Studies, the Institute for New England Native American Studies, The Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, and the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture. Continue reading

Journal Special Edition Dedicated to COVID-19 and Older Adults: Lessons From the Pandemic

Edward Alan Miller

Editor-in-chief Edward Alan Miller

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults around the world has been nothing short of breathtaking. Like any sudden crisis, it begs a few common questions: What actually happened and how did we respond? What lessons should we take from that experience? And, most importantly, what do we do now?

In a special double-issue of the Journal of Aging and Social Policy, dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, leading gerontology researchers tackle those questions from a wide range of perspectives. The issue, Older Adults and COVID-19: Implications for Aging Policy and Practice, offers 28 scholarly articles available online free of charge.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated populations and economies globally but older adults have been particularly hard hit, due both to direct exposure to the virus itself and to the adverse consequences of efforts taken to mitigate its effects,” said Edward Alan Miller, a University of Massachusetts Boston gerontology professor and JASP’s editor-in-chief. Continue reading