Senior Diversity Means Rethinking Platforms for Aging

The United States is growing older and more ethnically diverse, causing many government agencies to reformulate how programs that support health, education, housing and transportation can strengthen to meet increased demands.

The number of residents age 65 and older grew from 35 million to 49.2 million between 2000 and 2016; a significant increase that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation also increased federal spending on senior-related health care to $1 of every $7 spent towards seniors. Additionally, by 2027, net Medicare spending is expected to nearly double from $592 billion to $1.2 trillion.

“Our nation now faces a situation where the proverbial chickens have come home to roost with regard to African-American and other non-White seniors who will become largely reliant upon federal spending for sustainability,” Roanoke-based financial adviser Christian Moxley told The Informer. “These were the same young people who were denied social equity — livable wages, access to retirement plans because of their blue-collar or hourly jobs, and little to no access to health care preventions.”

Moxley said that like their parents and grandparents before them who were systematically omitted from Social Security if they worked as domestics or farmers (sharecroppers), planning for retirement and life beyond 70, required family rather than government support.

“Aging also has become a business where some industries — like pharmaceuticals — literally hold seniors hostage by raising the cost of life-saving and sustaining medication to exorbitant rates. This leaves some seniors in a veritable quandary determining whether to take medications, pay other bills, or even eat,” Moxley said.

The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded from coverage about half the workers in the American economy. Among the excluded groups were agricultural and domestic workers — a large percentage of whom were African Americans. This has led some scholars to conclude that policymakers in 1935 deliberately excluded African Americans from the Social Security system because of prevailing racial biases during that period. Moxley believes the government knew that these people would need help the most and become increasingly reliant upon younger family members — effectively decreasing the wealth potential of successive generations.

But all, said Lolita Mercado, is not lost. One of the benefits to a diverse senior population, the senior living specialist told The Informer, is a return by many Black and brown seniors to traditional, holistic lifestyles that honor and protect age.

“So many of the abuelos [grandparents] of various communities are reaching back and reconnecting with family traditions regarding lifestyle — rest, types of foods, natural medicines — that eliminate the need for any officials to hold their hands,” Mercado said. “My grandmother is 101 — she has outlived every doctor she has ever had. She tells me that listening to her God and her body determines how she will use her days. She eats for sustenance, not taste, and she takes a healthy shot of whiskey every night.”

Mercado said that it is often a blessing within Black and immigrant communities to support elders.

“So long as we take our responsibility as caregivers of our most cherished loved ones, we can fight to champion senior equity, but also fill in those gaps and voids where officials fail. This is the only way to honor our elders and teach our children how best to prepare to care for us.”

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