Loneliness And Race In The Twilight Years

Courtesy of Pablo Benavente

The quality of life for the elderly varies by race, and a new report from the Council on Contemporary Families sheds light on how loneliness affects seniors.

The report, by the nonprofit, non-partisan group based at University of Miami, found that elderly women are more likely to live alone and face higher poverty rates than men. But poverty is even higher for black and Hispanic women. Elderly black women are more likely to be widows because black men don’t live as long as white men. The average white man lives seven years longer than the average black man.

Older white men are better off financially than any other elderly group, but suicide is most prevalent for the widowed among them, according to the report. The suicide rate for white men over 80 is six times the overall average in the U.S., and three times the rate for black men of the same age.

Blacks and Latinos have a tougher time financially during retirement than whites for a number of reasons. For instance, poverty is more prevalent among elderly people of color, who are less likely to have workplace retirement plans than whites.

The elderly population in D.C. is majority black, but whites 75 and older in the city are more likely to live alone, according to census estimates:

Total households with someone 75+ One-person, 75+ households Percentage of one-person, 75+ households
Black 17,337 7,979 46%
White 7,590 4,549 60%
Hispanic 859 373 43%
 *Source: 2010 U.S. Census Bureau estimates

Some other take-aways from the report: women over 60 who live alone are happier than married women of the same age, and older, solitary men have more trouble maintaining social networks than women living alone.

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.

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Mapping Local Poverty Trends Over Time

Most of the D.C.-metro area’s poor live in the suburbs, but the city is home to nearly all of the region’s “dangerously high-poverty” neighborhoods. That’s according to the Urban Institute, which developed this interactive map (seen below) showing concentrations of poverty by race throughout the region. Neighborhoods where poverty rates are 30 percent or higher are considered “high-poverty.”

Poor whites and Latinos are more likely to live in the D.C.’s suburbs than poor blacks. The researchers note:

High-poverty neighborhoods — like those east of the Anacostia River in DC — didn’t occur “naturally” nor do they reflect the “choices” of poor families about where to live. Instead, these places represent the legacy of decades of racial discrimination, legally sanctioned segregation, and public housing policies. And our map shows just how stubborn this legacy is; despite dramatic demographic and economic changes sweeping the Washington region over the past two decades, poor Black families have remained highly concentrated in DC neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

You can zoom in to see poverty in the region or in the city, and use the slider to see how it changes over time:

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Five Facts About the Marriage Gap

Geoffrey Fairchild / Flickr

How likely you are to be married may depend on your economic stability and income. Marriage rates today differ depending on class, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution. Here are five facts behind the marriage gap:

There’s an association between marriage status and poverty.

Children born into single-parent households are more likely to live in poverty. That’s obviously not the case for everyone, but it’s more difficult to make ends meet for those who don’t have another breadwinner in the house.

In D.C., 3.8 percent of married couples with children live in poverty. But 42.3 percent of female-headed households with children live in poverty, according to census estimates. The median income for single women with families is $33,485; for single men with families, it’s $46,670; and for married couples with families, it’s $133,338.

It’s not all bad: declining marriage rates among women are partly due to increased independence.

Women are waiting longer to get married than 40 years ago. They have more freedom to pursue careers outside of the home, more control over when they want to have children and have “the ability to be more selective when choosing a spouse,” researchers noted. In 1970, 44 percent of middle aged women had no independent earnings. Today, only 25 percent don’t make their own money.

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D.C. Poverty Rates Could Increase With New Measurement

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A new government method of measuring poverty takes into account many factors the old rate didn’t: geography, taxes, government benefits, housing costs and other expenses. For D.C., this means many more people would qualify as poor due to the city’s high cost of living, DC Fiscal Policy Institute analyst Jenny Reed said on Thursday’s Kojo Nnamdi Show.

“Here in the District, we’ve seen median rent actually rise by 35 percent over the last 10 years, and incomes, at the same time, have only grown by 15 percent. So our costs of living are growing very rapidly,” Reed told Nnamdi.

While housing prices have been slow to recover in the wake of the recession, the District is one of the only cities where home prices increased from 2010 to 2011. Renting has gotten more expensive in the past year, too.

Under the new nationwide rate, poverty among children decreases while increasing for seniors. This is because government assistance families with children receive count as income. Meanwhile, out-of-pocket medical expenses paid by seniors count against them, so poverty among that group rises under the new rate. The drop in childhood poverty shows social safety net programs are helping children, but more needs to be done for seniors, the Urban Institute‘s Sheila Zedlewski said on Thursday’s Kojo Nnamdi show.

A state-by-state breakdown of the new measure isn’t yet available, but regional data show western states have the highest rate, followed by the southern region. Experts on Thursday’s Kojo Nnamdi Show spoke about the ramifications of the data and why poverty measures are important — for example, they determine who’s eligible for government assistance programs. You can listen to the entire segment here.

Two Americas Coexist in D.C.

D.C. is a microcosm of national class disparities, and the country saw the gulf between the rich and poor widen during the recession. Theo Balcomb, production assistant for “All Things Considered,” writes about these “two Americas” she saw while helping produce stories on the economy.

While in Spartanburg, S.C., Balcomb met a diabetic pregnant woman on disability, “struggling to sort through cereal and pork patties in her food pantry box.” Balcolm witnessed the other America when reporting from New York’s Upper East Side, where, while visiting a seven-story mansion, her “biggest concern was not getting winded as I carried a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and a cheese plate up to the roof.”

And that’s what’s confusing: That America is a place where these two worlds can coexist, often without knowledge of each other. One where a pregnant woman has to wait in line for frozen pork patties, and one where I’m in New York being offered goat cheese and fig spread and crisp gluten-free crackers and low-fat string cheese.

The contrast has always been there, but it’s looking stark right about now. The 27-year-old woman working in the grocery store lit up when she had this thought: Those people in Washington, those people with all the money who make all the decisions, they should have to live a week in our shoes. It could be a new reality show, she said brightly. Just a week. Just a week in our shoes.

Victor Cheung / Flickr

The U.S. Capitol isn't far from some of D.C.'s poorest neighborhoods.

Many around the country view D.C. as the power capital of the world, but the District’s disparities are some of the starkest. The D.C. region has the highest incomes and lowest poverty rates in the nation. But 1 in 5 people in the District proper live below the poverty line. In Ward 3, 49 percent of people have incomes higher than $100,000 annually and unemployment is about 3 percent. A few miles away in Ward 8, 41.1 percent of people have incomes below $25,000 and unemployment is at about 25 percent.

Those “people in Washington… with all the money who make all the decisions” are presumably politicians and lobbyists on Capitol Hill. They don’t need to travel to South Carolina to see poverty or hardship. They can drive 10 minutes away to see it.

Poverty By Race in D.C.

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The District’s poverty rate — 19.9 percent — is the third highest in the nation. But the way that rate breaks down by race shows that not all groups are affected equally by poverty.

These figures come courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, which recently released its American Community Survey 2010 estimates for poverty and race. (Keep in mind the figures have various margins of error.):

Poverty Rate Median Income
White  8.5% $99,220
Hispanic 14.7% $60,798
Asian 20.1% $77,098
Black 27.1% $37,430
 *American Community Survey 2010 Estimates

Kathryn Baer of Poverty and Policy also points out that the percentage of D.C.’s children living in poverty has risen to 30.4 percent, the second-highest childhood poverty rate in the country. Baer writes:

In short, these are mostly grim figures — and a far cry from the “one city” Mayor Gray envisions.

To my mind, the child poverty rate rings the loudest alarm bells because we’ve got volumes of research showing that children who live in poverty have much higher risks of poor health, developmental delays, academic difficulties and other problems;

These, the research shows, pave the way for lifelong poverty — and thus another generation of children who are born with two strikes against them.

Five Facts About Race, Poverty and Health Insurance

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Poverty rates have reached their highest levels since 1993, with 1 in 6 Americans living in poverty in 2010, according to new census data released today. But not all groups have been affected equally.

Here’s what we’ve gleaned from the latest U.S. Census Bureau data dump, which includes information on the racial groups most likely to live in poverty, be without insurance or see drops in household income:

Who had the lowest poverty rate? Whites.

White people had the lowest poverty rate in 2010, at 9.9 percent. The percentage of whites living in poverty didn’t change much between 2009 and 2010, but household income did drop slightly.

Which group is hit hardest by poverty? African Americans.

We know the black middle class was particularly hit hard by the recession, but it’s not just the middle class that’s feeling disproportionate effects. More than a quarter of African Americans live in poverty, and the rate is rising faster than that of any other group.

Which group saw the biggest increase in the uninsured? Asians.

The percentage of Asians without health insurance increased to 18.1 percent, while it remained relatively stable for whites, blacks and Hispanics. However, Hispanics are still the most likely to be without insurance; nearly 1 in 3 don’t have coverage.

Are naturalized citizens less likely to live in poverty? Yes.

The poverty rate for immigrants who have become U.S. citizens is 11.3 percent. But that rate is more than double for the foreign-born who haven’t become citizens.

Who has the largest household income? Asians.

Households headed by an Asian had the largest median income in 2010, at $64,308, which is more than double the amount for African Americans. The median household income for whites was $54,620 in 2010. Measuring median income gives a more accurate picture of the state of a particular community because it controls for the very poor and the very rich — so people like Oprah and Bill Gates can’t skew the picture.


Race, Class and Unplanned Pregnancies

Flickr: Trevor Bair

A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute found that while the overall rate of unintended pregnancies hasn’t changed, there are considerable disparities between the percentage of unplanned pregnancies experienced by wealthy and poor women in America.

Researchers also found a widening gap based on race and income. African-American women had the highest unintended pregnancy rate — more than twice as high as non-Hispanic white women.

Also, the rate of unintended pregnancies among low-income women rose, leading the researchers to conclude: “the rate for poor women was more than five times the rate for women in the highest income level.”

And about those women with higher incomes:

In contrast to the high rates among certain groups, some women in the United States are having considerable success timing and spacing their pregnancies. Higher-income women, white women, college graduates and married women have relatively low unintended pregnancy rates (as low as 17 per 1,000 among higher-income white women—one-third the national rate of 52 per 1,000), suggesting that women who have better access to reproductive health services, have achieved their educational goals or are in relationships that support a desired pregnancy are more likely than other women to achieve planned pregnancies and avoid those they do not want.

In the United States, almost half of all pregnancies are unintended. The Guttmacher Institute discovered a sobering fact; despite educational achievement, marital status, race or age, lower-income women still have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies. There was a 50 percent increase in the number of unintended pregnancies among women whose incomes were below the federal poverty line. Meanwhile, the rate of unplanned pregnancy among wealthier women decreased by 29 percent over the same period of time.

D.C.’s ‘Gulf’ Between Rich and Poor

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Pedestrians pass by a homeless man as he rests with his belongings on K Street, NW.

How are the poor treated by the media, politicians and society?

Experts on Wednesday’s Kojo Nnamdi show discussed the state of poverty in America and popular perceptions of the poor.

In the District, nearly 1 in 5 individuals live at or below the poverty line — which is about $22,000 for a family of four. Olivia Golden, former director of D.C.’s child and family services agency, told Nnamdi there is a “gulf” between the rich and poor in the District:

One of the reasons that people don’t get distressed by the gulf as we’d think they would is they’re deeply cynical and pessimistic about public investment and public involvement. And so, even if they think,’Well, maybe it shouldn’t be this way,’… they think that anything we could do to fix it might be worse.

An interesting debate then ensued as to whether public assistance programs help the poor, or whether they contribute to the cycle of poverty. The whole segment is well worth a listen.