Illinois lawmakers and advocacy groups launched a statewide initiative Monday to address financial, health and tech disparities for the state’s senior citizens of color.
The initiative — grounded in data compiled by researchers at the Center for Urban Research & Learning at Loyola University Chicago — is a multi-year effort to implement policy solutions that will help elderly Black, Latino and Asian American residents.
“We are looking to work together … to make seniors’ lives better, to give them a life that we all dream about as we get into our older years,” said Karen Freeman-Wilson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. The group is partnering with the Illinois’ chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the Resurrection Project, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.
The “Disrupt Disparities” report focuses on the issues of economic security, health and digital connectivity for older adults of color in Illinois. It highlights high poverty rates among elderly residents of color, lower rates of homeownership among Black and Latino seniors, language challenges for elderly immigrants, lack of access to quality health care, and lower rates of broadband connectivity and digital literacy for senior citizens.
“While heartbreaking, these statistics are not surprising,” said Rosanna Marquez, Illinois’ volunteer president for the AARP. “They are evidence of long-standing inequities from the social conditions that lead to poor health, to unequal access to quality care, to limited economic resources which have existed for years.”
Marquez and representatives from other groups said these challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They said they plan to work with lawmakers to implement policy solutions in the coming years.
The advocacy groups were joined by several county and state officials at the virtual launch, including state Sens. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, and Robert Peters, D-Chicago, state Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinckle.
“It pains me to see that … older adults have remained the most at risk of infection, serious complications and death during this pandemic,” Peters said. “Among this population, people of color remain the most vulnerable to disproportionate rates of infection and death.”
Policy recommendations made by the advocacy organizations include legislation to expand retirement savings access to more Illinois workers, providing property tax relief for older adult homeowners, investing in health equity models throughout the state, increasing health insurance coverage options for older adults, expanding broadband access to communities of color and funding digital literacy programs for the elderly.
“Many of our elders are not … computer literate,” Collins said. “Our seniors, many don’t have computers, they don’t have a grandson or grandchild in the house to help them navigate the system” — especially with regard to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Collins said she is pushing for a “mass vaccination site” on the South Side of Chicago. “We need some place — McCormick Place or Chicago State [University] — somewhere where our seniors have access and have a way of getting to those sites,” she said.
“We’re hearing a lot of anxiety and frustration, but especially from older adults of communities of color,” said Marquez with AARP. “To push registration for vaccines all online is not going to help the significant numbers of households of color that don’t have access to broadband.”
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.