August 15, 2012
Latino Seniors Describe their Needs
By: Jason Coates

This summer, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) has been traveling to key regions of the country to host its Promoting Communities of Success Regional Meetings.  These meetings allow NHCOA to hear the needs and perspectives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers and also to empower them to become more civically engaged.

Newspaper articles print grim economic statistics, but in order to learn the true human cost of these numbers, we must listen to real individuals and hear their background and perspective. This information is key in aligning daily needs with meaningful policy solutions. Three common themes we picked up at the Dallas and Miami regional meetings were: (1) Hispanic older adults are still recovering from the economic downturn of 2008, (2) they are uneasy about the future, and (3) despite their fears and concerns, they are eager to be a part of the solution.

Many of the Latino seniors NHCOA encountered this summer are, like many Americans, struggling to afford mortgage payments, health care, and food.  While prices for necessities like gasoline and prescription medication increase, most folks we met emphasized that their wages and benefits remained the same.  They also pointed out that programs like the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s housing program for older adults are valuable, but they aren’t reaching the seniors who need it the most.

Social Security was another issue participants cared deeply about, the majority fearing they could lose it in the future.  Given that half of Latinos depend on Social Security for 90% or more of their income, the continued economic difficulty has left Hispanic older adults in constant fear that their benefits could soon disappear.

As a part of the regional meetings, NHCOA also conducted Empowerment and Civic Engagement Trainings in Dallas and Miami to engage and mobilize local Latino communities. These trainings demystify the public policy process, show local leaders how to engage in advocacy campaigns, and guide them through the process of training others.  In Dallas and Miami, NHCOA found Latino seniors and local leaders eager to advocate for positive change, speaking openly about the problems they face and enthusiastically offering possible solutions.  As we look to November and beyond, we hope that the multiplier effect of these trainings empowers more Latino seniors to take active roles in the future of our aging and ethnically diverse country.

The last NHCOA Promoting Communities of Success Regional Meeting is on August 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA.  NHCOA will present the findings of these meetings on October 3, 2012 at the National Summit, which convenes professionals, advocates, policy makers, and Hispanic community leaders to better understand the needs and concerns of Latino seniors and Hispanic families, ensure they are fairly represented in U.S. policies, and encourage a multicultural dialogue to build a stronger, golden America.

Jason Coates is the Public Policy Associate for the National Hispanic Council on Aging. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.