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Aging and the 2010 Census: Dig Deep into Diversity

Aging and the 2010 Census: Dig Deep into Diversity

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

As the 2010 Census gets underway, journalists need a more sophisticated understanding of people over 65 to report on them accurately, says Steven Wallace, a University of California-Los Angeles public health researcher.

"There is no 'The Elderly,'" he told California Endowment Health Journalism Fellows at a Los Angeles seminar on Sunday. "The elderly are a complex mixture of individuals. It's important to realize there are different groups and profile the diversity within them."

For example, while about 12 percent of all California seniors are living at the federal poverty level, 30 percent of Latino seniors live at that level. There are health disparities among seniors of different ethnicities as well.

Journalists also need to be aware of the limitations of the federal poverty level in explaining circumstances of low-income seniors in California, where the cost of living is high. Many don't have enough money to make ends meet, but that's not reflected in a federal poverty threshold that Wallace says is out of date. His research shows that the most basic living expenses for a single home-owning senior without a mortgage in Los Angeles County average about $16,000, well above the current poverty threshold of $10,830.

Wallace suggested that journalists explore these undercovered issues in their reporting on seniors:

1. Examine the political and policy reasons why some programs for poor disabled and elderly people, such as In-Home Supportive Services, routinely wind up on the California state budget cut list.

2. Is Supplemental Security Income doing what it's supposed to be doing? Former California Endowment Health Journalism Fellow Kelley Weiss produced a hard-hitting series of stories on SSI in California for Capital Public Radio. Here is Part 1 and Part 2.

3. Using Census and other data, profile how the elderly population in your community is changing? Is it growing poorer? Richer? More diverse? (Throughout California, Wallace says, his data shows that more elderly are rich and more are poor and there is a hollowing out of the middle class elderly).


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