Latinx Viejitos: A Growing Demographic

Latinos were 8% of the older population in 2016. They’re expected to be 1 in 5 by 2060. 

Los Viejitos 
Older Latinos already face housing, health, and caregiving challenges, and concern is growing that as the “browning of the graying” of America continues, as longtime UCLA public health researcher David Hayes-Bautista has written, the economic and social impact on Hispanics and the U.S. will be significant.

Although the need for affordable Latino senior housing is high, Washington, D.C., has just two such facilities, including Casa Iris, founded in 1997. It is owned by the National Hispanic Council on Aging, which also runs a similar facility called Mira Vista in Garden City, Kansas.

Los Numeros 
Consider the numbers. The Urban Institute estimates that the number of all Americans ages 65 and older will more than double over the next 40 years, reaching 80 million in 2040. Latinos made up 8 percent of the older population in 2016. By 2060, however, that percentage is projected to reach 21 percent, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While mental health is important, so is the physical health of older Latinos. Hayes-Bautista, a professor of public health and medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the UCLA School of Medicine, said challenges will grow as the older Latino population expands and their life expectancy remains longer than average.

He said Latino longevity can be attributed to good behaviors, such as less smoking and drinking than the general population. Health issues that do arise tend to be job-related — from agriculture or industry.  Coupled with that is the lack of access to health insurance and access to health care.

“When Social Security was instituted, then Medicare built on top of it, the assumption was that at age 65, Latinos would get both,” Hayes-Bautista said. “That is not the case because some industries were exempt from Social Security — agriculture was exempted, domestic service was exempted.”

The Results
As a result, many of today’s Latino seniors did not pay into Social Security, and likely did not have a private retirement pension, either. “So that means Latino elderly tend to have Medicare coverage at far lower rates. They have to rely on Medicaid and Medicare,” he said.

The pandemic shined a light on the health discrepancies that already existed, he said. In California, for example, his center reported that coronavirus death rates were from two times to seven times higher for Latinos than for non-Latino whites from summer 2020 through winter 2021.

“[Latinos] are excluded from programs that reach all elderly, so they have less access to health care, pensions and publicly-financed retirement programs and Medicare,” Hayes-Bautista said. “So how do they get tested, vaccinated, and treated when they get ill?  All of these things add up.”

The Strain on Family Caregivers 

The lack of access to affordable housing and good health care can create a perfect storm in which family members often assume caregiving duties for sick, elderly parents, or grandparents. The National Alliance for Caregiving report found that Latino caregivers tend to be younger (43.4 years) than other caregivers, live with the person they care for, work full time while also providing care, and report high levels of financial and physical strain.

To help Latino caregivers, AARP launched a program called Ayudando a Quien Ayuda, or Helping the Helper, in Los Angeles County that offers free, personalized support, volunteer Yolanda Becerra Jones said, adding that it may expand to other cities.

Participants dial 2-1-1, ask for Helping the Helper, and a bilingual adviser will describe the program and send contact information to the University of Southern California’s Family Caregiver Support Center. The center then helps caregivers coordinate hospice, respite care, workshops, legal services, meal delivery programs, training, and even self-care for themselves.

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