The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying recession have revealed disparities in health and financial stability everywhere in Illinois, and seniors citizens are no exception.
Senior advocacy organization AARP Illinois says it is time for the legislature to address underlying issues, particularly in communities of color.
Through the combination of various Chicago-based organizations and researchers at Loyola University, the “Disrupt Disparities” report highlights inequalities amongst seniors of color when it comes to healthcare services, economic security, and access to broadband connection.
For example, the report found of Ilinoisians who are of color and over the age of 80, almost half are still making payments on home mortgages — nearly double the amount of white elders in the state.
Another finding was that Latino and Asian Americans in Illinois are less likely to have health insurance compared to white residents.
Andy Kang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, said these disparities are not going to be surprising to the members of the community he works with.
“My mother, who is passed away, was an OB-GYN for three-plus decades,” Kang said. “I grew up watching her get on the phone calling patients in the Asian community telling them not to skip their annual checkup, because oftentimes because of lack of health insurance, they were coming in every other year.”
Kang said as a result of these reduced health screenings, illnesses like cancer are particularly high for Asian residents.
State Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) said many of the inequalities seniors of color experience have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that it is important to build upon equity-focused bills already passed in the legislature's Lame Duck session last month.
“We are in the midst of three crises: a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and a crisis in terms of systemic racism,” Peters said. “These crises aren’t new. They are highlighting the years of disinvestment and austerity that has ravaged Black communities. These crises are highlighting who gets safety, security, and support.”
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) said she is hopeful advocates will not only have an opportunity to brief Gov. JB Prizker on the report’s findings, but also transform the report’s various policy recommendations into legislation during the spring session.
Collins said she is particularly interested in addressing financial disparities, citing how Black seniors in Illinois are three times more likely to live in poverty compared to their white counterparts.
“These wealth differences are also caused by the lack of access to banking and credit in communities of color, which decrease access for retirement savings, pensions, 401k plans which provide key sources of economic security as we age,” Collins said.
One economic-equity proposal which has already been filed with the General Assembly — HB117 — would require even the smallest of businesses in Illinois to enroll their employees into a state-run retirement savings plan or face fines.
The Illinois Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program offers a Roth IRA plan for employees who work in a business without a retirement package.
Currently, employers with at least 25 employees are required by law to enroll them in the program if they do not offer an alternative retirement plan.
HB117 would compel businesses with at least one employee to enroll in the program or face a fine of up to $500 per employee, per year.
Advocates argue such a proposal would help to create a pathway for more Illinosians to have access to a retirement fund — including underrepresented workers of color.