Research shows that discrimination across the lifespan and thinner support networks (among other factors) contribute to higher poverty rates among LGBT people, including LGBT older people. Additionally, LGBT elders face employment barriers and discrimination in the workforce as they age—both as older people and as LGBT people. They then encounter safety net programs in their later years that deny same-sex couples the same benefits as their married heterosexual peers. This unequal treatment under the law spirals many LGBT elders into poverty.
New research shows that one in six Americans age 65 and older is living in poverty. Based on a revised federal formula that accounts for out-of-pocket medical and other living expenses, the US Census estimates that 16.1 percent of elders in this country are living in poverty.
Research shows that poverty among lesbian, gay and bisexual people is as high, or higher, than among the heterosexual population. According to a 2009 research report led by UCLA's Williams Institute, studies have found that 24% of lesbians and 15% of gay and bisexual men are poor, compared to 19% and 13% of heterosexual women and men, respectively.
Researchers have noted a number of factors that contribute to high and persistent levels of poverty among LGBT communities. Some of the main reasons include: vulnerability to employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage, higher rates of being uninsured, gender and racial inequalities, less family support and family conflict over coming out.
For LGBT older adults, a lifetime of employment discrimination, among other factors, contributes to disproportionately high poverty rates. One study found that same-sex elder couples face higher poverty rates than their heterosexual peers; 9.1% and 4.9% among elder lesbian and gay couples, respectively, in contrast to 4.6% among elder heterosexual couples.
With less income and higher levels of poverty, many LGBT elders enter their later years with marginal community support. Although 80 percent of long-term care in the U.S. is provided by family members, LGBT elders are twice as likely to be single and three to four times more likely to be without children than their heterosexual peers.
The employment and economic security challenges experienced by many older people are even more pronounced for transgender older adults. Transgender people face high levels of employment and housing discrimination, and consequent economic and housing instability. Many have lost jobs and homes due to discrimination. The economic and personal impact of this discrimination can accumulate over a lifetime and impact earnings, savings and Social Security benefits. Even those who transition in mid-life and start out financially secure are often devastated by discrimination. Read a full report on transgender elders. ▶
LGBT older adults eventually encounter safety net programs that deny same-sex couples the necessary benefits that can prevent one from spiraling into poverty. For example, the lack of Social Security survivor benefits for same-sex couples can cost the surviving partner in a same-sex relationship as much as $28,152 a year in lost benefits. Likewise, same-sex couples aren't offered the same protections as married heterosexual couples in most states. Read more about spousal impoverishment. ▶
As one response to this reduced economic security among LGBT elders, SAGE offers a national program called SAGEWorks to improve the capacity of LGBT older adults to remain vital members of the nation's workforce. SAGEWorks offers training, employment resources and the general job know-how to ensure that LGBT elders obtain the job security and financial stability they need to age successfully. Learn more about SAGEWorks' resources. ▶
To learn more about economic security and LGBT elders, please contact Robert Espinoza, Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications, at 212-741-2247 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Are We Doing Enough for Marginalized Elder Populations?By Robert Espinoza
Diverse Elders Coalition Releases Report and News Blog on the Policy Barriers Facing Elders of Color and LGBT Elders
The report, Securing Our Future: Advancing Economic Security for Diverse Elders, is available to download at DiverseElders.org.