Photo above of Felipe and Noelia Gomez by Johanes Roselló.
ATLANTA, Ga.--Many of the Latino baby boomers born from 1946 through 1964 are moving into elder years without the possibility of retiring. For instance, Patricia Aristizábal started her business of promotional products two years ago.
Although many of Aristizábal’s contemporaries are about to retire, the Colombian immigrant began a new career. For her, retirement is not around the corner.
“I don’t want to think that tomorrow I'm going to retire, or even in five or 10 years. I think I started to work late and still have much energy and time to continue doing it,” she said.
In the United States there are about 8 million Hispanic boomers, almost10 percent of all who make up that generation, said Fernando Torres-Gil, vice president of the National Council on Disability and director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Recent U.S. Census data show that Georgia has a total of 2.5 million boomers. Of those, almost 80,000 are Latino.
Gaps Between Latino, White Boomers
Torres-Gil, who also headed the U.S. Administration on Aging under President Clinton,has researched this generation. He explained that Latinos boomers have made more progress than their parents, who made sacrifices for their children to enjoy a better life.
According to Torres-Gil, these sacrifices have helped many Latinos reach for the American dream. However, the situation of this generation cannot be compared with their peers of other ethnicities.
"Over the past 40 years, baby boomers have made progress in Latino civil rights, economics and education. But they have not yet reached the same level as white boomers," stated Torres-Gil.
One of those gaps between the two groups, he said, is the ability to retire.
"The main concern of this generation of Latinos is that they will rely more on Social Security than whites and have fewer resources to retire," said Torres-Gil.
Besides some people of this generation still have financial responsibilities as parents.
Aristizábal, for example, is the head of her family and has three children in her charge: one daughter in college and two sons graduating from high school this year.
"I'm working part time with an organization and the other half time I am dedicated to my business and my children," she said. "I juggle because I am a housewife, mother and I have two jobs."
Recession Versus Retirement
According to Torres-Gil, the recession has worsened the situation of many in this generation.
"The economic downturn showed how vulnerable Latinos are in general, but especially baby boomers," Torres-Gil stressed.
"Before the recession, Latinos already had low coverage of pension and savings, but the recession has eroded the savings and resources they had and increased unemployment," he said.
One of those affected by the crisis was Felipe Gomez, 55.
Like many ethnic older workers, Gomez, who is Mexican, lost his factory job in 2008, and since then had a heart attack.
A 2010 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that more than half of Latino older workers are in jobs that are physically demanding or have difficult working conditions. The report states, “Many workers would be physically unable to extend work lives in their jobs.”
For Gomez, the struggle to support is wife and child, while keeping up his home payments, has prevented him from any thought of retiring.
"We are very indebted right now, but our house is all that the Lord has permitted us to keep," said Gomez.
A few months ago he landed a job, but it includes no benefits, such as health insurance or a 401(k) account for retirement savings.
For now, Gomez doesn’t think he can retire and take good care of his health.
"My goal would be to retire, yet I am afraid of retiring because I have not accomplished what I wanted. In the time off work, I had to go through everything I had saved in my retirement plan," he said.
A doctor recommended that Gomez stop working and apply for Social Security disability benefits, but he was denied. He has appealed the decision and now is fighting for the decision to be reversed.
Gomez recalled, "I told the doctor, 'I want another round of 10 years' work.’ And he said, 'You'll die.'"
Gomez said he was not well prepared for unemployment. Despite the difficulties, he said his faith in God will help him overcome his obstacles.
Roles of a Generation
Another situation that many aging boomers face is having to take care of their parents.
Torres-Gil noted that parental care is a commitment for many Hispanic families and is a significant challenge for this generation of Latinos.
Ann Hoos, a Panamanian who lives in Marietta, Ga.,cares for her mother who has Alzheimer's disease.
"God has given me no children, but gave me an old daughter," Hoos said, referring to her mother, Maria Yon, 95.
At age 58, Hoos’ life rotates around two things: her work as a doctor and taking care of her mother. Her biggest challenge, she said, lies in addressing it without neglecting herself.
Speaking of eldercare demands, Hoos commented, "With children come the joy of watching them grow and develop. But when the person is elderly, she is going backwards and not everyone can take the responsibility that comes."
She added, though, "It's tough, but I see it as a mission."
When Hoos goes to work during the day at the hospital, she leaves her mother to the care of another person. During evenings and weekends she is devoted entirely to her mother, which has completely changed her routine.
Based on the situation facing boomers today, Latino researchers like Torres-Gil wonder if retirement is still a possibility for them or if the recession caused them irreparable harm.
"We're starting to see that Latino baby boomers may be more vulnerable than expected and may not meet expectations that they and their parents had for them," he said.
For Patricia Aristizábal, her retirement years are approaching, thus increasing her uncertainty of what the future will bring because of the instability of the economy and unemployment.
"Suddenly you think we are moving forward and something happens elsewhere that affects us all," said the Colombian.
Johanes Roselló wrote this article as part of the MetLife Foundation Journalists on Aging Fellowship, a project of the Gerontological Society of America and New America Media.
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