During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.
For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors. In our second article, we looked at the changes that LGBT seniors are driving in the marketplace. For our third piece, we talked about America’s largest-growing ethnic demographic: Asians.
Now, for our final article in this series, Wayne Langley is considering the challenges faced by African-American seniors in today’s society.
Over the last decade, the African-American population in the United States has celebrated some amazing strides, while also being forced to come to grips with incredible lows. From the high of electing an African-American president, to facing racial violence in American cities, to challenging relationships with the police force, African-Americans are still struggling for equality in many ways. Unfortunately, one of the areas of continued inequality is income while aging.
In January of this year, Bloomberg published a report about the retirement crisis facing African-Americans. Its analysis showed that the average Caucasian family has more than $130,000 in liquid retirement savings, such as cash, retirement savings accounts and IRAs. Startlingly, the average African-American family has less than one-sixth of that amount saved (or about $19,000) — and this isn’t a new trend. The racial wealth gap has been growing since at least the 1960s and isn’t showing any signs of slowing. As retirement living options become increasingly more expensive — and more luxury-focused — the ability of African-Americans to move into such residences is slimming.
Ashton Verdery and Rachel Margolis studied some of the risk factors facing African-Americans in retirement. They published their findings in October 2017, and the outlook was grim. Their report notes that African-Americans have a much higher instance of life-altering illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. Obviously, this leads to the need for increased acute care as this population ages. Within the African-American community, it can be a cultural expectation that family members will step up to the plate and help take care of aging relatives; however, there is an increasing trend in older African-Americans aging without any relatives to provide this support, especially in light of the trend of “grey divorce,” which has steeper rates of occurrence in the African-American demographic.
Verdery’s report specifically touches on the implications for long-term care based on the findings. “Having family members come in and check, or someone double-checking what doctors are doing, is a beneficial thing,” says Verdery. “We may need to have more programs that check on people, particularly those without family.” As aging services marketers and providers, we know the importance of an involved family; not only do they help loved ones make good decisions, but they also act as watchdogs to ensure that proper care standards are being maintained. Without a family member or advocate network, aging African-Americans could be at greater risk for neglect.
Another point relating to aging African-Americans and retirement living is the rate of homeownership. The Washington Post reported that the rates of African-Americans who own their own home are at the lowest in recent memory. In fact, in 2015, the rate of African-American homeownership was the same as it was nearly 50 years earlier! In our space, it is common knowledge that most potential residents will need to leverage the sale of their home to be able to afford to make the move to a Life Plan Community. If one doesn’t own a home, a Life Plan Community could be terribly far out of reach.
Aging services providers who value diversity and inclusion may need to rethink some of their financial models if they want to appeal to and include a larger African-American population in their communities. Certainly, this is going to be a vibrant market in the coming years, and the provider that figures out how to best serve it could stand to reap major rewards. Yet our fear is that unscrupulous organizations, aiming to make a quick dollar, will look to provide seemingly affordable solutions that fail to cover the minimum standards. This, in turn, could lead to African-American seniors being placed into an especially precarious position as they age.