Asian Seniors in the City: A New Report

Howard Shih, research director of the Asian American Federation, discusses the group's study on Asian seniors in the city, (Photo via Korea Daily)

Howard Shih, research and policy director of the Asian American Federation, discusses the group’s study on Asian seniors in the city. (Photo via Korea Daily)

Korean seniors have the highest uninsured health coverage rate in New York City among Asians, while Filipino seniors have the lowest, according to a new report released on Aug. 26 from Asian American Federation (AAF).

Twenty-five percent, or one in four, Korean seniors were not insured, the highest rate among Asian seniors, followed by Chinese (14 percent), Pakistani (14 percent), Bangladeshi (14 percent), Indian (13 percent), Japanese (11 percent), and Filipino (10 percent).

The report found New York City’s Asian seniors – defined as age 50 and older – were far less likely to have private coverage than non-Asian seniors in New York City and Asian seniors nationally. Among Asian seniors in New York City, 86 percent had health insurance coverage, while 92 percent of non-Asian seniors were insured.

“Because some Asian seniors immigrated later in life, they are less likely to have health insurance coverage,” said Howard Shih, research and policy director at AAF.

The report took a broad look at the characteristics of Asian seniors living in New York City, examining everything from healthcare to housing costs to social networks. The AAF last released such a study in the year 2003.

When it comes to housing costs, half of Asian seniors spent 30 percent or more of household income on rents. More than half of Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, and Koreans lived in rent-burdened households.

The report also found that because Asian seniors in New York City are less well-educated than other seniors and Asian seniors nationally, they are more likely to be poor and low income. More than one in three Asian seniors in New York City never completed high school. Almost half of Chinese seniors never completed high school, while more than half of Filipino and Japanese seniors have completed a post-secondary degree.

The diversity of languages spoken in the Asian senior community and their limited English proficiency also makes outreach and provision of services a great challenge, the report noted.

Sixty-eight percent, or more than two in three, Asian seniors were classified as Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or non-English speaking in the report. Thirty-six percent of them lived in a limited English speaking household where no one in the household aged 14 or older speaks English well.

“The highest rates of LEP among Asian seniors contribute to increased social isolation,” said Shih. “Even though many Asian seniors don’t live alone, they often rely on younger children to translate when interacting with the mainstream.”

Also, 76 percent of Asian seniors in New York City interacted with a very small social group of one to five friends, which contributed to feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression.

Asian seniors in New York City as a group were much younger than non-Asian seniors. The 50 to 59 year old age demographic accounts for about 47 percent of Asian seniors living in New York City.

The report observed that the U.S. immigration reforms of the 1960s resulted in a wave of immigration from Asia during the latter half of the 20th century. Now, more than 50 years later, these immigrants are entering their retirement years.

“The model minority myth disguises the reality that Asian seniors in New York City are among the poorest seniors in the country,” said Shih. “We’ve seen the Asian senior population double since 2000. With them now comprising 16 percent of New York City’s senior population, we can no longer ignore their needs.”

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