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Chat4Change Recap: Eliminating Ageism Through Policies, Programs, Perspectives

// July 13, 2020

Reimagining and Redesigning Economic Security for Older Adults

On June 24, 2020, WFCO held our most recent Chat4Change, focusing on economic security for older adults in Colorado. It’s a topic that often lacks attention, although eliminating ageism is very much needed to impact the future of our communities, with the State Demography Office predicting the number of Coloradans older than 65 rising 77 percent from 2015 to 2030.

As in many other areas such as career advancement, pay, representation, decision making and more, women are unequally affected, with older women more likely to experience the negative impacts of aging. In fact, the National Institute on Retirement Security found that women are 80 percent more likely than men to face poverty during retirement. And within that 80 percent, women of color are even more disproportionately impacted.

Eliminating ageism is a first step in economic security for older adults

The first step, said panelist Jeanine Vanderburg from Changing the Narrative, is to understand “ageism,” and change the way people think, talk and act when it comes to aging. “It starts with language choices and the way our society looks at and often marginalizes the contributions of older adults. With vast experience and insight, older adults can be incredible assets to communities and workplaces,” said Jeanine.

We also have to stop putting individual responsibility on older people for how they fare as they age and adopt more age-friendly workplaces and more productive public policies and practices, especially when it comes to women. – Janine Vanderburg, Changing the Narrative

The intersection of age, gender, and race have an enormous effect on the economic security of women.

  1. Ageism in the workplace pushes women out of the workforce and getting back in can be difficult, especially for women of color. In fact, a recent Washington Post article highlighted that women 55 and older who lose their jobs during the pandemic face the prospect of long-term unemployment.
  2. Ageism is embedded in policy and program structures, with retraining or upskilling of older adults not included in most job and workforce development programs.
  3. Public policymakers primarily focus on long-term care, often neglecting issues that impact older adults like economic security and workplace discrimination.
  4. Ageism against older women amplifies the impact of systemic sexism and racism, which translates into less savings and less retirement, with women of color suffering the most.

The most recent data show that 19 percent of older African American adults and 18 percent of older Latino adults age 65-plus live in poverty, vs 8 percent of whites. And when it comes to women, the numbers are even more dire, one out every five women of color in that same age group lives in poverty.

The intersection of age, gender, and being Black 

According to panelist John Reid, development director, Center for African American Health, there is a clear and direct link between equity, the social determinants of health, and the economic security of older adults in African American communities. “There is an unequal amount of older African American adults living in poverty who are undiagnosed and untreated for a variety of diseases,” said John. “And caring for those with health issues often lands squarely in the laps of older African American women.”

Because African American women traditionally step up as caregivers and providers for immediate and extended families, and also deal with systemic issues of gender bias, lower pay, and discrimination in the workplace, they are most often hit the hardest when it comes to economic security and the negative impacts of aging. “These inequities aren’t new. There are barriers out there that prevent access to the systems that are in place to help people, especially older adults,” said John. “Resources provided to organizations that work to eliminate health disparities make a powerful difference.”

“Government and public policy are not ready for increase in older Latino adults”

“While older Latino women face many of the same systemic issues as older African American women when it comes to economic security, there are some key cultural differences when it comes to aging,” said panelist Mike Cortes, executive director, Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy, and Research Organization (CLARO). With the number of older Latino adults in Colorado expected to triple between 2010 and 2030, CLARO has made aging a priority for their organization. “These numbers came as a surprise,” said Mike. “Government and public policy are not ready for this increase in older Latino adults, and quite frankly, Latino families are not ready for this.”

More likely to live in multi-generational households, Latino families traditionally honor, revere, and take care of older family members. “There’s an element of reciprocity here, too,” said Mike. “Traditionally, older members of the family have paid for the education and support of younger members. And as the younger members join the workforce, they provide for the financial security for the elders. However, as society changes with improved education, labor market mobility and lower birth rates, taking care of older family members is increasingly falling on the shoulders of Latina women, many of whom are also working at least one full-time job and taking care of their children.”

Recent legislation and efforts supporting Colorado’s aging population, eliminating ageism

It’s for all of these reasons that The Bell Policy Center has made aging policy in Colorado a priority over the past several years. Our fourth panel member, Andrea Kuwik, policy analyst, highlighted some of the policy efforts supporting Colorado’s aging population and eliminating ageism. For example, the Creative Secure Savings Program bill that recently passed, enables those who don’t have a retirement savings program at work to save for retirement. Paid sick leave was another policy that passed, helping the entirety of our communities, including older adults and caregivers.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of wonderful momentum and action by many groups,” said Andrea. “Moving forward, we’re looking to support a variety of policies to support our older adults and aging population. This includes supporting older adults in the workforce and adapting the existing systems in place to work better for older adults,” she said. “What’s really important is to look at policies through an age-friendly, broader lens. It’s all interconnected. Supporting older adults benefits the entire community.”

This sentiment was echoed by Christian Itin, chair of the Colorado Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging. “Our goal is to look at how to Colorado can accommodate our aging population now and in the future. We take a broad holistic look at aging, providing recommendations and helping change the narrative on how Colorado should position itself to serve older adults, and what it means to age in Colorado.”

With the help of our panelists, WFCO has compiled a list of resources that help to eliminate ageism and provide community support for older adults.

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