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Latino Americans left out of age boom planning Our Time Jane Glenn Haas

IS THERE ANYONE who doesn’t know the Boomers are turning 60?

Not only turning 60 at the rate of one every seven seconds but doing it with a style and gusto that has coined the phrase “60 is the new 40.”

Yeah. Right.

That “forever young and forever zesty” comparison works for Sally Field, on the cover of this month’s AARP The Magazine, where she’s touted as “Tiny, Talented & Terrific at 60.”

But it doesn’t work for thousands of aging Americans — particularly aging Latino Americans — who are about to grow old without access to preventive health care services and other community supports, ranging from work opportunities to affordable housing.

A new report by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, funded by MetLife Foundation, says only 46 percent of American communities have begun planning to address the needs of aging Boomers — a demographic that will send our aging population soaring to 71.5 million or one in five Americans by 2030.

That’s twice the number of elders on Social Security and Medicare today.

No, this is not a polemic on the costs of public services for the elder population. It is a call to be concerned about how these programs will serve specific needs of aging minorities, especially the aging Latino population.

“Latino aging isn’t even being discussed among themselves let alone others,” says Fernando Torres-Gil, an associate dean at UCLA and director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging. Torres-Gil was the nation’s first secretary of aging, appointed by President Clinton.

He says Latinos focus instead on education, civil rights, crime, jobs and the needs of younger family members.

“It’s not in their DNA that they may some day be old and that concerns me,” he says. “Our job is to put forward an agenda for them.”

Why specifically for Latinos? What makes them special?

Well, first there is the sheer number of aging Latinos. In Orange County, Calif., for example, their 60-plus population will explode 140 percent by 2020.

Included in this number will be the aging Latino women who have legal status, have worked in homes as housekeepers, never received Social Security and now find they don’t qualify for Medicare and similar public services.

“What are we going to do with them?” asks Gloria Reyes, executive director of Abrazar, a Latino senior center in Westminster, Calif.

Then there are the elder Latinos who may have assets through homeownership but don’t recognize how to manage or access their potential wealth.

“To a degree, first- and second-generation Latinos think of the whole family as always together,” Reyes says. “They don’t know how to discuss issues like setting up a family trust. In fact, the parents would be insulted.”

California Assemblywoman Patty Berg warns Boomers are about to strain the public infrastructure in their old age. And, just as government responded in the 1950s and 1960s with schools, parks and hospitals to serve a youthful Boomer population, governments must respond with more efficient aging services and new strategies.

She points out the state’s elder population is projected to go from 1 in 10 residents to 1 in 7 within two decades. Other states face similar, if less dramatic, increases.

We know we’re on the cusp of an age boom. Our challenge will be how to meet its multi-cultural concerns.

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