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Difficult retirement looms for ethnic workers, grandparents

Paul Kleyman | 9/27/2013, 6 a.m.

This kind of pension insecurity will place an increasing financial burden on many groups of vulnerable seniors. For instance, according to a recent report, The High Cost of Caring: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, in California alone, 300,000 seniors are taking on primary parenting duties for their children’s children.

The study adds that in California, “more than 20,000 care for their grandkids without any extended family assistance at home.”

The California study stresses that older adults raising grandchildren alone “may be among the most vulnerable residents in California, due to the state’s high cost of living and low levels of public assistance.”

The report, from UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, shows that “nearly half of custodial grandparents who are 65 and over in California do not have enough income to cover the most basic needs of the grandchildren placed in their care.”

The report goes on, “Yet public programs that might provide benefits that could help grandparents cope, such as the state foster-care program, are often difficult to access or off-limits altogether for family caregivers.”

In California, as in other states, many older adults are ineligible for public programs like Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California), housing subsidies and food benefits because they have incomes that are — often just slightly — above the official federal poverty level.

The study recommends “raising the eligibility criteria for certain public programs to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, extending state foster-care benefits to kinship caregivers and limiting the frequency of cumbersome and bureaucratic benefit renewals (since most older adults live on fixed incomes and thus do not experience income fluctuations that require regular documenting).”

According to a new report from Pew Research, “7.7 million children in the U.S. — one in 10 —were living with a grandparent, and approximately 3 million of these children were also being cared for primarily by that grandparent.” The numbers spiked upward when the recession started and have leveled as the economy has recovered, but they continue to rise as the U.S. population ages.

Among ethnic groups, states the Pew analysis, “black children are the most likely to be cared for primarily by a grandparent.” That’s one-in-12 African American kids, double the number of children raised by grandparents in Latino families, almost triple the level in white families and quadruple the rate in Asian families.

Senior editor Paul Kleyman, who has covered issues in aging for four decades, directs New America Media’s Ethnic Elders Newsbeat.