New Report on Asian Elders in New York City

Howard Shih, (212) 344-5878, x219
[email protected]

New York City:  This morning, the Asian American Federation released our latest report, Asian American Seniors in New York City: An Updated Snapshot.  In our report, we highlight the demographic changes and economic challenges facing New York City’s fastest-growing senior population.  Asian Americans now represent 16% of all seniors ages 50 years and older, yet programs and resources available to Asian seniors have failed to keep pace with this growth.  When it comes to New York City’s social service funding, for example, only 2.7% went to senior programs focused on Asian seniors.

The funding gap can be traced to two major factors.  One, the consolidation of many social service grants into fewer, larger grant opportunities has led to the exclusion of Asian-led social service providers from the competitive process.  Asian-led organizations are often smaller and have less capacity to take on larger grants, despite being in the best position to serve Asian seniors because of the trust and deep roots they have developed in their communities.  Secondly, the model minority myth disguises the reality that Asian seniors in New York City are among the poorest seniors in the country.  Thus, the goal of this report is to dispel these myths and highlight the great need among Asian seniors.

Key findings of this report include:

  • Growth in the Asian senior population in New York City is driven by Asian seniors immigrating late in life and by Asian immigrants aging into senior status.
  • Major shifts in demographics are changing the ethnic mix of the Asian senior population in New York City. South Asian and “Other” Asian groups have senior populations that have more than tripled in size from 2000 to 2014.
  • The high rates of limited English proficiency among Asian seniors contribute to increased social isolation.
  • The diversity of languages spoken in the Asian community makes outreach and provision of services a great challenge.
  • Asian seniors in New York City are less well-educated than Asian seniors nationally and other seniors in New York City. As a consequence, Asian seniors are more likely to be poor and low-income than Asian seniors nationally and other seniors in New York City.
  • Because some Asian seniors immigrated later in life, they are less likely to have health insurance coverage and to receive Social Security benefits than other seniors.

In order to address the increasing needs among Asian seniors, the Federation makes the following recommendations to the City:

  • Increase the resources available for programs serving Asian seniors.
  • Build capacity within Asian-led senior programs, which are more likely to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services for Asians seniors.
  • Ensure that outreach to Asian seniors is conducted in-language and through trusted information sources for each community, including ethnic media and community-based social service organizations.
  • Alleviate poverty by increasing access to social safety nets for more recent arrivals.
  • Increase access to adult literacy and job skills programs for low-income Asian seniors who are still active in the labor force.
  • Offer employment and volunteer opportunities for Asian seniors in order to increase their income and decrease their social isolation.
  • Create affordable senior housing, including culturally-appropriate assisted living facilities.

Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Federation, said, “Since our 2003 report on Asian elders, the size and composition of our senior population have changed dramatically. Our updated report underscores the reality that the current capacity of social services is not nearly enough to meet the needs of this population. What we hope this report offers is some concrete ways in which our city and state leaders can begin to build real infrastructure to serve our seniors.”

“We have seen the Asian senior population double since 2000,” said Howard Shih, research and policy director of the Federation.  “With Asian seniors now comprising 16% of New York City’s senior population, we can no longer ignore their needs. We must address their language, health, and housing needs – among all the others – if we hope to support their longevity.”

AARP, who generously funded this report, recognizes the importance of highlighting the needs of Asian seniors.  “AARP proudly supports the Federation’s report revealing insight into our rapidly-growing AAPI 50-plus community. As AARP is committed to raising the issues and needs of AAPI 50-plus communities, we hope this report will continue to debunk the model minority myth and be used by individuals, community-based organizations, nonprofit groups, media, funders, and policymakers to build the case for funding, policies, legislation, and advocacy to improve the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders 50-plus,” stated Daphne Kwok, AARP’s Vice President of Multicultural Leadership, Asian American & Pacific Islander Audience Strategy.

Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP New York, added, “Like the Federation, AARP is fighting to increase funding for transportation services and improve job opportunities and affordable housing for older city residents while combatting social isolation and elder abuse. We need our leaders to acknowledge changing demographics and implement policies that make New York a better place to live, work, play, and age. The City would be wise to heed the recommendations of the Federation’s report.”

A long-time supporter of our research on seniors, Long Mountain Road Foundation, a foundation run by the Lederer family, had this to say: “For many years, Midori Shimanouchi Lederer, assistant to filmmaker turned social activist Michael Todd (of Around the World in 80 Days), worked tirelessly to support members of New York City’s aging Asian American community. She was the founder of Japanese American Social Services, Inc. as well as a founding board member of the Asian American Federation. Her sister, Ida Shimanouchi, a beloved English teacher at Fieldston’s Ethical Culture School for decades, staunchly supported this work with her time and funds. In their honor, the Long Mountain Road Foundation proudly supports this important new work by the Asian American Federation.”

State and city leaders also responded to the value of the report’s findings.  Queens Borough President Melinda Katz stated, “The Asian American Federation’s report offers an important snapshot of New York’s seniors of Asian descent, a substantial number of whom reside here in Queens. Findings of note were that Asians are the fastest-growing segment of the seniors in New York City, and these same seniors are among the poorest seniors in the country. As policymakers and officials shape resource priorities over the next few years, it is critical to consider these findings and help ensure that services for elders meet growing demands and match both cultural and linguistic needs. Queens is thankful to AARP and the Asian American Federation for their tireless work in producing this snapshot of this fast-growing segment of our city’s population.”

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Aging Committee, said, “With more New Yorkers than ever living longer and more active lives, it is critical that we give all of our seniors an appropriate level of supportive services to meet their unique needs. As the Assemblyman who represents one of the largest Asian American communities in New York City, I commend the Federation for compiling this comprehensive report and providing data that will help policymakers more accurately target the problems that impact our City’s Asian American seniors.”

Council Member Margaret S. Chin, chair of the Council’s Committee on Aging and a long-time advocate of Asian seniors and their needs, said, “This comprehensive report provides more evidence that our City’s aging population is not only growing, it is becoming much more ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse. The challenge of serving this changing senior population is huge – particularly for the many Asian American communities located throughout the five boroughs. I commend the Asian American Federation for compiling this report, which should be used by City and State agencies as a guide to help seniors live longer, happier, and more active lives.”

Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik acknowledged the importance of giving voice to our seniors’ needs.  “Seniors built our communities and continue to enrich us with their wisdom; it is imperative that our city be able provide social services to diversifying senior communities. The Asian American Federation’s reports have consistently highlighted how our city can work toward ensuring that all seniors have access to vital services.”

Similarly, Council Member Paul Vallone, Chair of the Subcommittee on Senior Centers, said, “Understanding the demographic changes and challenges facing the Asian senior population is a critical first step in being able to provide them with the best services possible. I thank the Asian American Federation and look forward to working with them to determine the best ways to support our Asian seniors.”