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Cultural Diversity - Poverty

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There is considerable variation in socioeconomic status among the different racial/ethnic and national origin groups. One way to measure this is to examine the proportion of elders who fall below federal poverty thresholds. Although poverty rates have fallen for all groups since 1980, comparison of historical poverty rates for adults age sixty-five and older by race reveals that non-Hispanic white older adults have consistently had the smallest proportion of older adults in poverty, with Asian/Pacific Islanders having a slightly larger proportion who are poor. African Americans and Hispanics consistently have proportions that are much larger. In fact, Hispanics tend to have poverty rates twice as large as non-Hispanic whites, and poverty rates for African Americans have historically been triple those for non-Hispanic whites.

Several characteristics of older minority populations partially explain why they have higher poverty rates. In general, married people are less likely than unmarried people to be poor, and high school graduates are less likely than those who did not complete high school to be poor. Older minorities are less likely than older whites to be married and to be high school graduates. When examining the educational patterns of older adults, one finds that 28 percent of whites and 35 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders have less than a high school education. Among older African Americans, 56 percent have failed to complete high school; among Hispanic older adults, 71 percent have not completed high school (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, 2000). These disparities in educational attainment stem from minority elders' origins in social backgrounds with fewer educational opportunities, whether in the rural South or the underdeveloped nations from which they migrated. Following a life course perspective, lower education has adverse effects on the prospect for better jobs and pay, promotions, and wealth building.

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