Why Retirement is Tougher for Blacks, Latinos

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Senior citizens attend a meeting with their senator about Social Security at the Isabella Geriatric Center in New York City. Black seniors, on average, rely more heavily on Social Security than whites.

Unemployment rates are higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites, but there’s another disparity at the end of the career spectrum: retirement. Black and Latino retirees have a tougher time financially than their white counterparts, according to a new University of California, Berkeley study [PDF]. Below are three reasons why:

Poverty is higher among black and Latino seniors than white seniors.

The poverty rate among all seniors is about 9 percent. For white seniors, it’s 7 percent, while for black and Latino seniors, it’s 19 percent. People of color over 60 years old are more likely to live in poverty because they rely on fewer sources of retirement income than white seniors, according to the study’s authors.

Black and Latino retirees are less likely to have a workplace retirement plan.

There’s a few reasons behind this. For one, whites are more likely to work at places offering retirement plans, such as 401(k)s: nearly 69 percent of white adult workers’ employers offer plans, compared to almost 62 percent of black workers and 43 percent of Latino workers.

But just because an employer offers a plan doesn’t mean a worker will sign up for it. Most plans are voluntary and not all workers (such as part-timers) qualify. About 55 percent of adult white workers participate in an employer-sponsored plan, while 48 of black workers participate and only 32 percent of Latino workers are signed up.

Black and Latino retirees rely more heavily on Social Security than whites, even though whites get more in benefits.

White seniors are more likely to live in families receiving Social Security benefits than racial minorities, and whites get more in benefits. Blacks and Latinos who receive Social Security checks get 26 percent less in average annual benefits than white seniors because of lower lifetime earnings. But racial minorities rely more heavily on such benefits for retirement income: more than 30 percent of black seniors and 26 percent of Latino seniors count on Social Security for almost all income, compared to 22 percent of whites seniors.