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Time to Tackle Health and Financial Disparities in Illinois

Savings

Not long ago, Andy Kang discovered that his parents hadn’t put aside enough money for retirement or their monthly mortgage payments and that they were carrying considerable debt. He and his brother stepped in to help them financially.

His parents were not alone. By age 65, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in the state have a median income of $16,971 and are 1.2 times more likely to live in poverty than white older adults, according to “Disrupt Disparities,” a report that AARP Illinois published in February.

“Having enough saved up for retirement is a problem in our community,” said Kang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, one of three nonprofits that worked with AARP Illinois on the report. “Why is that? And how do we address that problem?”

Insufficient retirement income is one of many economic and health challenges detailed in “Disrupt Disparities.” Compared with whites, Black older adults are three times, and Latinos 1.7 times, more likely to live in poverty. In Illinois, more than one-third of African Americans and Latinos ages 65 to 79 have no high-speed internet at home. For those on Medicaid, use of telemedicine, which requires broadband service, is three times less among Blacks and Latinos than whites.

“Disrupt Disparities” recommends specific legislative, policy and other changes to reduce these inequities.

A campaign for change

This spring and summer, community groups, legislators and AARP are gathering support for the changes they say are needed and are taking steps to make them happen.

The Chicago Urban League, which also collaborated on the report, is planning town hall meetings to reach older Black adults who can get help from its workforce development and housing and financial empowerment programs, CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson said.

“We are focusing on the senior wealth gap to assist seniors with mortgage questions and challenges, retirement strategies and other advice,” she said.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) cosponsored two measures that became law in March. The Predatory Loan Prevention Act caps interest rates charged by payday-loan firms, and the Illinois Community Reinvestment Act provides oversight so that all customers are served equitably by banks, credit unions and state-licensed mortgage companies.

To boost internet access, Collins and State Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Chicago) are crafting legislation to diversify the Illinois Broadband Advisory Council by adding seats for representatives from Asian, Black and Latino communities.

Policies and programs can have an impact, too. Mah’s office recruited volunteers and a health care provider to organize COVID-19 vaccinations for about 800 older people in the city’s Chinatown area. Her office also worked with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to provide free food for families in the city’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.

AARP Illinois plans statewide virtual community events this year to discuss solutions to disparities. To see the schedule, read the report and volunteer, go to disruptdisparitiesil.com.

Lisa Bertagnoli is a writer living in Chicago.

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