By Maria F. Mata
Last summer, a group of colleagues and I went to Dallas to coordinate a series of activities for Latino older adults that included an open forum with seniors, local leaders, and representatives from private and government agencies that work on aging issues. Dallas welcomed us with warmness and kindness from residents, ample sunshine, and many stories that touched my soul.
Part of my research work was to collect data and testimonies to be included in a final report on the status of Hispanic older adults in Dallas, focusing on retirement security and other related topics. It is widely known that saving for retirement is an overwhelming task for many seniors across the country, especially for the black and Latino minorities. The NIR’s data shows that Hispanic older adults have the lowest average balances in retirement savings nationwide, particularly when compared to their whites counterparts ($17,600 vs. $111,749). Additionally, they represent the lowest participation in work plan retirement (29.7% vs. 53.8%), among many other devastating rates. [i] Then, it is not hard to understand why Latino seniors are more likely to live in poverty and face financial hardships.
Knowing this situation, our goal was to provide the context for an interactive and solution-driven conversation between seniors and service providers. The idea was to ask participants a series of questions related to elders’ wellbeing, retirement security, and what can be done to improve their lives.
The open forum in Dallas looked promising as we had over 130 participants ready to start the discussion. Having the opportunity to hear directly from seniors about the main challenges they face personally impacted me as they detailed their stories that my statistics and estimations were missing: people were suffering in silence and their voices were only the echo of a long list of structural problems. In summary, these are the 6 things that I learned in Dallas:
1. Hispanic seniors are eager to be part of the solution: many of them are willing to receive job training and be part of a local elder hiring initiative. Many of these seniors are incredible talented in hand crafting, manual arts, carpentry, and gardening, among many other skill sets.
2. A lack of clear and reliable information is a big issue in this community: they talked about the importance of developing educational campaigns that inform local employers and employees about saving plans, paid sick leave, and many other benefits in the job market.
3. Retirement security is not only a problem concerning seniors: rather, it is an issue that impacts the entire population as they age. Consequently, seniors proposed initiatives like teaching their children and grandchildren about the importance of saving for retirement through achieving small goals first (Ex: saving $5/week = $240/year).
4. Cultural barriers are part of the problem: it is crucial to change the consumer mentality and provide our kids with counseling programs about “savings goals” and future projections.
5. Hispanic seniors understand their role and responsibly in saving: they proposed to create a common fund for low-income people as an alternative for those who cannot access critical social programs.
6. Financial institutions and banks could be part of the solution: they could provide education about savings and retirement programs, especially for youth and middle aged population.
[i] Rhee, Nari (2013). Race and Retirement Insecurity in the United States. National Institute on Retirement Security, retrieved from http://www.nirsonline.org/storage/nirs/documents/Race%20and%20Retirement%20Insecurity/race_and_retirement_insecurity_final.pdf