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AARP AARP States Illinois Advocacy

AARP Illinois Report Looks at Racial Disparities in Health, Wealth and Digital Access


In 1968, Mary Conway-Nash and Floyd Conway built a bungalow in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. The two raised eight children in the five-bedroom home, which cost $17,500 to construct.

Conway-Nash, 90, still carries a mortgage on her home because of medical bills that her second husband, Everett Nash, incurred from recurring bouts of colon cancer. He passed away in 2012.

In 2019, with help from the Chicago Urban League’s Housing and Financial Empowerment Center, she refinanced her mortgage, with payments of about $1,000 a month. But with a monthly retirement income of $2,800, “it’s a hard struggle,” she said, to afford to stay in her home.  

Like Conway-Nash, nearly half of Illinois residents of color
age 80 or older carry a mortgage, twice the rate of their white  counterparts.

This and dozens of other disparities in economic security, health and digital connectivity are outlined in AARP Illinois’ “Disrupt Disparities” report. 

“Racial disparities keep people from living longer, healthier and more productive lives,”
said Rosanna Márquez, 62, of Chicago, volunteer state president of AARP Illinois. 

In 2013, according to the report, the median wealth of households was $11,000 for African Americans, $13,700 for Latinos and $141,900 for whites. 

Leveling the playing field

“Disrupt Disparities” marks the beginning of a multiyear project. “Our ultimate goal is to bring about policy, systemic and structural changes for older Americans of color,” Márquez said.

Among the report’s disparity findings and proposed fixes are:

Economic: Older adults of color are less likely to have retirement savings from stocks, pensions or 401(k)s than white Americans, and as a result, they are more likely to work past age 64 out of necessity. 

Policy fix: Expand Secure Choice to include all employers. Currently, the state program mandates that employers with 25 or more workers offer a qualified retirement plan or enroll employees in the state’s savings program, which has more than 83,000 participants, who have  saved north of $52 million. 

Health: People of color have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses than their white peers; they also have less access to health facilities and pharmacies. 

Policy fix: Community health programs that allow for in-home visits conducted in the patient’s language, plus food delivery programs for areas that lack access to healthy foods. The report also urges the expansion of affordable health insurance for adults ages 50 to 64. 

Digital: More than one-third of people of color ages 65 to 79 in Illinois have no home access to high-speed internet—a necessity for telehealth services, e-learning and other essentials. Further, 48 percent of older adults don’t have the technical skills needed to use internet devices. 

Policy fix: Assess broadband availability, reliability and affordability in low-income areas via the Illinois Broadband Advisory Council, the makeup of which should reflect the demographics of the state. Broadband service should be expanded to communities of color.

Disrupt Disparities” was produced with Loyola University Chicago and the Chicago Urban League, the Resurrection Project and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago. You can view the report here.

Lisa Bertagnoli is a writer living in Chicago.

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