City Limits: Dynamics of Race, Poverty Deepen the Challenges of NYC’s Aging Population

April 26, 2019

Dynamics of Race, Poverty Deepen the Challenges of NYC’s Aging Population | April 26: The United States, like most other industrialized nations, is grappling with an aging population. New York State and City are part of that trend. Residents over the age of 65 now make up a significant part of the population in the state. While more than half of that older population is White, a lot of recent growth has been among seniors of color, especially because of the presence of Latin American and Asian immigrants.

And, as at other times of life, color matters. Census data indicates that while only 7 percent of Whites over age 65 live in poverty, 19 percent of Latinos, 17 percent of Blacks and 13 percent of Asians do. While those senior-poverty rates are all lower than those for the overall population, the fact that such stark differences exist despite the impact of Social Security hints at challenges the city will face as it grows grayer.

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Ben Thomases, the executive director of Queens Community House which is a network that serves seniors in Central Queens, says that he sees a lot of the issues first-hand. He says that some of the disparities affecting seniors of color have a lot to do with language, culture, and outreach to underserved immigrant populations.

“SNAP enrollment for immigrant seniors is very low. There are a lot of immigrant seniors who are eligible for SNAP benefits who are not enrolled in the program,” he says.

He also says that without extensive outreach that aims to fill in the gaps for elderly recipients, especially those who are immigrants and have a cultural and language barrier, problems facing older New Yorkers will only increase.

“Years ago I worked in the mayor’s office and I was part of a team of people who applied for a grant … to create an outreach program to immigrant seniors: SNAP outreach to immigrant seniors,” says Thomases. “It was very successful, [but] when the federal funding ended, the outreach effort ended.”

He wants the city to take a look at other programs like that and to “pick up the mantle” and continue to fund extensive outreach programs. Even as the 65+ population has swelled, resources such as affordable housing, food and social programs, and medical services for that portion of the population have decreased by 40 percent per older resident since 2000, according to the a recent report in City Limits.

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