Finances: Setbacks, but Looking Forward

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

The hardships of the Great Recession may be fading from memory for some, but for many Hispanics, especially older Hispanics, the struggle is far from over. According to the Pew Research Center report, Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics, Hispanics had the greatest loss in household wealth during the recession, falling from $18,359 in 2005 to $6,325 in 2009 – an astonishing 66 percent drop. Even five years after the recession officially ended the disparities in wealth between Hispanics and other groups remain enormous.

The recession’s impact on home values also wreaked financial havoc on Hispanics. And because Hispanics typically maintain a much greater proportion of their net worth in home equity than other groups, the impact was both broad and deep.

In the midst of challenging economic times, Social Security remains the most reliable source of income for older Hispanics. And while some have set aside retirement savings or receive support from relatives, the Social Security Administration indicates at least 40 percent of older married couples and 63 percent of unmarried men and women rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. While their benefits are modest, more than 50 percent of older Hispanics would live in poverty without their Social Security checks.

Today, Hispanic workers account for about 15 percent of the U.S. workforce and make significant contributions to Social Security funds through payroll taxes. But ironically, there are older Hispanic immigrants who’ve paid into Social Security but can’t take advantage of support programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or receive Supplemental Security Income. They’re denied because they don’t meet eligibility criteria, like becoming naturalized citizens or accumulating the required level of U.S. work history.

And health care coverage is another significant challenge for older Hispanics. Even Social Security’s modest annual increases aren’t enough to help most seniors keep pace with rising health care costs, so they are forced to reach deeper into their pockets. Over 5 percent of older Hispanics lack health insurance, compared with less than 1 percent for older non-Hispanics.

Our nation’s recent financial crisis created setbacks for families and individuals of all ages, but Hispanics have maintained a strong positive outlook toward the future, either for themselves or their children. Additional Pew Research shows that two-thirds of Hispanics expect their financial circumstances to improve in the near future and believe their children will enjoy a better standard of living than themselves.

For more than 55 years, AARP has worked to improve the lives of older men and women and their families, especially to improve their health and financial security. Working to keep Social Security and Medicare strong for current and future generations is integral to what we do. So is raising awareness about programs that support greater economic stability. For example, while some people aren’t eligible for food assistance programs like SNAP, many are eligible yet don’t realize it.

Building savings and household wealth is critical for increasing economic stability later in life. As the Hispanic population grows in the coming decades, AARP will continue to fight for and support these families as they pursue the American dream.

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