As older adults anxiously await vaccines to protect them, African American/Black, Latino and Asian American older adults in Chicago and statewide are getting sick and dying of COVID-19 at rates much higher than their share of the population, according to new data from AARP Illinois, the Chicago Urban League, The Resurrection Project and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago released today.
The sobering statistics – evidence that longstanding inequities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – have prompted the creation of a collaboration to urge officials and influencers across the state to find ways to create systemic policy changes on behalf of, and with, older adults of color.
“The disproportionate number of Illinois’ older adults of color dying from COVID-19, while heartbreaking, is not an anomaly,” said Rosanna Marquez, AARP Illinois State Volunteer President. “It is evidence of longstanding 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.”
During a press conference, Marquez and leaders from the groups pledged to do their part to “Disrupt Disparities” in Illinois and create an Illinois where older adults across communities can age with the economic stability, health care resources and digital connectivity they need to lead healthy, stable and rewarding lives. They were joined by Illinois Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins, Senator Robert Peters, Representative Theresa Mah and other elected officials.
“We’ve seen that racial economic disparities can accumulate over the course of someone’s lifetime to create widening wealth gaps in communities of color,” said Illinois State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins.”This study of the experiences and needs of older adults of color is an essential first step in creating an Illinois where older adults can age with financial security, healthcare that meets their needs and the digital resources they need to lead healthy, productive and rewarding lives.”
“The COVID-19 public health crisis has wreaked havoc on our older adults of color, and has brought to the forefront the deep disparities that exist in these communities in the areas of health, economic security, and connectivity,” said Illinois State Senator Robert Peters. “It has never been more important or more urgent to bring about the systemic and structural change needed to promote equitable solutions for older adults of color and their families.”
“Older adults of color have suffered from the effects of disparities that lead to health problems, unequal access to reliable health care and limited economic resources for far too long,” said State Representative Theresa Mah. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all the devastating impact of these inequities, and that urgent action must be taken to ensure that our adults of color can live healthy and fulfilling lives.”
Collaborators on the “Disrupt Disparities” initiative called for immediate action and recommended policy solutions for many of the disparities outlined in the report.
“We’re proud to be a collaborator on this groundbreaking report that shows how structural inequities are impacting older adults across communities of color, including the Asian American community,” said Andy Kang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. “Asian Americans are often left out of conversations regarding racial disparities due to the ‘model minority’ myth, when in fact, many are suffering due to economic disparities, lack of resources, and other factors. This report emphasizes the need not only for more data on Asian American communities, but more disaggregated data, to really understand the impact of these disparities on our communities.”
“We already knew the pandemic was having a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities. Through this collaboration, we now have research and data that show that senior members in communities of color are perishing at disproportionate rates due to unequal access to healthcare and other longstanding disparities,” said Karen Freeman- Wilson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “This cannot be acceptable. We must have action to address these disparities and improve the quality of life for older individuals who often are the backbone of our communities.”
“This pandemic has exposed and exacerbated widening inequities. In many of our Black and Brown communities, there is limited access to high-quality healthcare, the digital literacy gap is high, and the economic disparities have yet to be addressed,” said Raul Raymundo, CEO of The Resurrection Project. “It’s very important that our elected officials understand that any recovery effort is seen as an investment in addressing these inequities over the long-term.”
According to the new data released Monday, deep disparities exist in the areas of :
- While African American/Black Chicagoans in the 50+ age range account for 7.5% of all recorded COVID-19 cases, they constitute 39.3% of deaths despite representing 37% of Chicagoans 50 and older between March and Dec. 31, 2020.
- Hispanic older adults in Chicago accounted for 21% of the population 50 and over, yet made up 31.4% of infections and 32.5% of deaths from COVID-19.
- African American/Black seniors are three times more likely to live in poverty, Latinos and Asian Americans are almost twice as likely as whites.
- Almost half of African American, Latino and Asian homeowners over 80 in IL still hold mortgages on their homes, twice as many as whites.
- In Illinois, African American/Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans suffer significantly higher rates of chronic diseases than their white counterparts. In Chicago, 75 percent of older African Americans and 64 of older Latinos are diagnosed with hypertension.
- But older adults of color have limited access to high-quality health care. In urban areas, healthcare providers are concentrated in white neighborhoods; in more rural areas, whites are three times more likely to have access to a car – the highest of any racial or ethnic group.
- More than a third of Illinois African American/Blacks and Latinos over 65 have no internet access at all at home.
The groundbreaking data – the first time all available research on disparities for older adults was collected for such purposes – was compiled by researchers at the Center for Urban Research & Learning, Loyola University Chicago in late 2020.
For a complete copy of the report, click here.
The Disrupt Disparities report is just the beginning of a multi-year effort to create systemic policy changes on behalf of, and with, older adults of color in Illinois.
The group will host a Disrupt Disparities summit in partnership with the Illinois Department on Aging on April 26-27, hold regular community convenings across the state (Feb. 24, March 3, March 24 and April 10) and engage lawmakers on developing policies to address the problems.
“It’s never been more evident that systematic changes are needed to help Illinois’ residents of color to live the same longer, healthier and more productive lives as their white counterparts,” Marquez said. “AARP is so proud to be working in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, the Chicago Urban League and The Resurrection Project to bring attention to the important issues for older adults and fight for these proven solutions.”