The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal, Vol. 43, Issue 5.
Asian Americans (AA) are the fastest-growing population in the US according toAsian Americans are often perceived as the “model minority,” a term that describes the academic and economic success of Asian Americans compared to other minority groups. Despite its positive overtone, the term is not without controversies. It not only creates a racial wedge between minority groups but also overshadows the unique challenges faced by the AA community. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the challenges faced by a particularly vulnerable population among Asian Americans: the older adults, as shown by the rising violence towards AA seniors on the streets. Yet, little has been written and discussed about Asian American seniors beyond the AA community. As such, this article seeks to answer the questions: What makes Asian American seniors a particularly vulnerable group in the US? What social initiatives can be created to help AA seniors overcome their unique social and cultural barriers?
Contrary to popular belief based on the model minority myth, studies have found that Asian American older adults experience more emotional distress than the general older population. Taking a look at New York and California, two states with one of the highest AA populations in the US, will give us broad insights into the well-being of AA seniors. In New York City, AA older adults are found to experience higher levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness compared to the city’s overall older adults
Asian American seniors, especially those from immigrant backgrounds, are more prone to feel social isolation and lack a sense of agency due to language barriers. In New York City, 1 in 3 Asian seniors lives in a limited English-speaking household. From internet bills to phone calls to doctor appointments, AA seniors’ daily lives can heavily depend on younger children or grandchildren to function. Previous studies have suggested the importance of a sense of agency, which refers to “the feeling of control over actions and their
Furthermore, the financially vulnerable state of Asian American older adults increases their dependence on their children. A 2019 study conducted byin Los Angeles found that many older Asian immigrants lack familiarity with the US financial system. The result is limited access to financial services and financial planning for retirement. Additionally, many AA seniors do not have sufficient work histories in the US, limiting their Social Security benefits eligibility. This is evidenced in New York City, where AA seniors were less likely to receive Social Security benefits compared to their other race In order to be fully eligible for Social Security benefits, an individual or their spouse needs to have at least 10 years of work history in the US. Moreover, Social Security retirement benefits are based on an average of the person’s 35 highest years of earnings. If the work history is less than 35 full years, the years before moving to the US lowers the average. Due to either their ineligibility or low retirement benefits, many AA seniors apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is not based on prior work history but based on low-income status in the US. The SSI benefit level leaves the person living below the poverty line.