The atrocious murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others sparked a meteoric rise in the fight against racial injustice over the past year. Peaceful protests, billion-dollar donations and more have followed in their wake.
While these are steps in the right direction, there is still much to be done for everyone in the Black community to overcome the lingering and generational barriers we’ve encountered. One group too often forgotten are Black seniors. These champions face disgraceful and long-standing disparities that have hindered them from living fulfilling lives.
The time to help these brothers and sisters is long overdue. We must advocate for them now!
Black older adults make up one of the fastest-growing older adult groups in America, expecting to reach more than 10 million people by 2050. However, this rapid growth continues to be met by decades-long disparities.
Black seniors who once fought in the Civil Rights movement now face lingering inequality that contributes to a lower quality of life due to a lifetime of discrimination.
According to the Administration on Aging (AoA), the poverty rate for Black older adults is twice that of all other older adults (24% compared to 10%). Take away Social Security benefits, and that percentage would be a staggering 58%.
Health care for Black seniors is no better. Research shows that most black elders have at least one chronic condition and many have multiple conditions. These health disparities were only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Black seniors have contracted and died from COVID-19 two to three times more than other older adult populations. In fact, Black seniors ages 65-74 have died five times more than Whites of the same age. Black seniors have also accounted for 37% of the 65 and older COVID-19 hospitalizations, even though they only represent 12% of this senior population.
The complications don’t end there.
COVID-19 widened the “digital divide” dilemma, highlighting the vast discrepancy between people without broadband compared to those with such. As we’ve seen through this pandemic, reliable and high-speed internet access is essential to how we live today. And Black older adults sit on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Only 30% of this group has broadband access at their homes, compared to 51% of White older adults. Unquestionably, this lack of connectivity is far worse than a matter of inconvenience; it threatens their very health and safety, with the potential to have deadly consequences.
Even though 30% of Black seniors have access to broadband, many still struggle to navigate this technology. Telehealth visits, online grocery shopping, COVID vaccine signups, and more are all made more difficult because of a lack of proper technology literacy.
This barrage of troubling statistics highlights just how vulnerable our Black aging community is without the proper support and how much they need assistance from our elected officials. Luckily, there’s an opportunity for lawmakers to have a meaningful impact on Black older adults.
Part of President Biden’s proposed investments for “human infrastructure” includes allocating hundreds of billions of dollars in support of eldercare and services, with the specifics still being constructed. In order to assist our Black seniors, the Diverse Elders Coalition – which includes the NCBA – is seeking $450 million over eight years of the proposed funding to support the needs of diverse older adult communities across the U.S.
With this funding, Black older adults facing generational discriminations and inequities could finally get the necessary care, resources and services they need. That would include internet education training, grants to purchase computers for low-income seniors, virtual technical services and much more.
Enabling this sought-after funding would be a momentous step in finally addressing the profound disparities that Black older adults – and all diverse older adults – have faced for generations.
Failing to meet their needs would be a travesty. This Administration must take a meaningful step toward building equity for all older adults, including Black seniors.
Our Black aging community has survived a lifetime of discrimination, and while they are resilient, they need our support now more than ever before. We cannot let them down again.
Karyne Jones is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, Inc. (NCBA) and NCBA Housing Management and Development Corporation, serving in her role since 2003. Prior to becoming NCBA’s chief executive officer, Karyne was Executive Director of Federal Relations with SBC Telecommunications, Inc., (now ATT) based in Washington, D.C. where she lobbied members of Congress on telecommunications issues and policies. She also represented the company’s corporate political action committee with national political organizations.