Study: Aging Hispanics are 'invisible boomers'

Eduardo A. de Oliveira | 6/17/2009, 5:04 a.m.

When asked about their absences at work in the past year, however, white workers reported more missed days than Latinos did. About 45 percent of the white workers said they’d missed at least one work day in the past 12 months, compared to 32 percent of Hispanic workers.

Yet despite their attendance, according to panelist Elba Aranda-Suh, Latino employees remain vulnerable.

“Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly what’s going on,” said Aranda-Suh, executive director of the National Latino Education Institute, a nonprofit organization located in Chicago. “Many [Latino] workers have come from the construction industry and are losing their jobs, while they were dedicated to their employers.”

Aranda-Suh also said her organization has seen an increase in the number of foreign-born Latino workers who come to the U.S. with college degrees.

“It’s been a challenge helping older workers with degrees from their homelands [to] assimilate [in] the U.S. market,” she said.

Aranda-Suh pointed out that resources available to train older workers in the past, such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, established in 1965, have been cut as a result of the economic downturn. Although resources are scarce today, she said she could still recall when there was a lack of information about the Latino workforce.

Half-joking, Jacob Lozada urged Latinos to set aside differences and increase their participation in community political decisions.

“How difficult is it sometimes to get anything done in your Latino community? We say we are going to have dinner, then Mexicans want tortillas, Puerto Ricans want rice and beans, Venezuelans want something else,” he said. “Look, you have to get involved. That’s why I joined AARP.”

As more studies and surveys about Hispanics are released, Lozada said it becomes easier to say that the federal government is not doing enough to help. But, he said, Latinos should also ask themselves, “What am I doing?”

The aging of all ethnic populations is a real problem for foreign workers, but hopes for a long and prosperous life in this country remain high, Aranda-Suh said. She added that migrant leaders need to work closely with legislators and the private sector to address issues like retirement, long-term care and health insurance.

In their survey, Johnson and Soto asked workers aged 50 and older to rate their health status. Of the Hispanic respondents, 27 percent admitted their health is fair or poor, compared to 18 percent for whites, and 27 percent for African Americans.

Despite those findings, Latinos have reason to be optimistic about their expectations for long life. At age 50, says the AARP report, Hispanics can expect to live three years longer than non-Hispanic white men and women, and five or six years longer than non-Hispanic African Americans.

The “50+ Hispanic Workers” report is available online at http://www.aarp.org/research/work/employment/hispanic_workers_09.html.