Happy Year of the Monkey! The Lunar New Year is another opportunity for us to make New Year’s resolutions. For many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, having a better understanding of Social Security should be on their list of things to do.
I had to learn about many of Social Security’s programs very quickly a few years ago, when my dad passed away. I found myself immersed in the world of survivor benefits, pensions, and overall income security for my mom. I learned that my parents were fortunate — Social Security was one source of their income, but not their only one.
Statistics show that a large percentage of elderly Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders rely on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income. This important detail reminds us that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders need to invest for a better financial future.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are one the fastest-growing ethnic groups in America. They are also one of the fastest-growing populations of older adults. According to the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging, U.S. Census data estimates that nearly 1.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are age 65 and older. This number is projected to grow to 7.3 million by 2060.
The needs of the aging Asian American and Pacific Islander community are unique. Approximately 85 percent of Asian Americans aged 65 and older are foreign-born and this diverse population speaks more than 100 languages and dialects. Furthermore, 60 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over age 65 have limited English proficiency. Thirty-one percent live in a linguistically isolated household, meaning those in the household speak English “less than very well.”
Helping a community with such diverse language and cultural backgrounds prepare for retirement requires that the services be culturally competent and linguistically accessible. Social Security provides essential resources for the diverse needs of this population, including information in Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese, and the opportunity to access an interpreter by contacting Social Security at the toll-free number: 1-800-772-1213. Telephone interpreter services for people with limited English proficiency are available at free of charge.
Although Social Security provides many in-language resources, too many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders don’t know about them. These groups are often stereotyped as “model minorities” not requiring public assistance services. The reality is that people in this group were among those hardest hit by the recession. Data from the 2010 Census shows that many Asian American and Pacific Islander sub-groups have a higher rate of poverty among the elderly than the national average, including one sub-group of which most of its elderly lives below the federal poverty level. Despite this, the stereotype label may make some people in these communities reluctant to reach out for assistance.
Social Security is a lifeline for many in these communities that not only functions as a retirement program, but also provides protection through disability insurance and financial support for families with children.
While many of us celebrate the Lunar New Year with our families, we need to spread the word about how Social Security benefits our community and us. Whether it is for our parents, our grandparents, or ourselves, it is important to understand how Social Security is important to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.