May 22, 2017

The Many Faces of Senior Hunger

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Every day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65.

For the past 70+ years, baby boomers have built and informed a new makeup of America. These Americans, born between 1946 and 1964, constitute every race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. They married, and they raised children alone; they served in the military and they served time in prison. They live in cities and suburbs, on reservations and in small rural towns. Increasingly, they are living in senior homes.  

As MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger strives to end hunger among seniors, we constantly are faced with this fact: Older Americans’ identities, communities, and life experiences are incredibly diverse.

When MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger expanded its strategic programming in 2011, it was to ensure that the most vulnerable Americans were being represented in the anti-hunger field. Our programming strives to recognize and address the unique barriers that people experience when it comes to accessing food. As we began developing these strategic responses, one critical fact kept presenting itself: people don’t fit into only one category. As such, an individual’s risk of hunger will increase when their identity and life circumstances expose them to the barriers of multiple vulnerable populations.

For the last 6 years, we’ve been designing and implementing strategic initiatives that focus on three populations: seniors, military, and rural & remote (with a focus on Native communities). You can read more about the origins of these projects here. Throughout our work, we have discovered overlap between the populations for which we’re advocating. What do military and rural & remote populations have in common? Everybody ages! Since we already know the facts about seniors generally, let’s look at what we’ve learned about older Americans who are also veterans, live in rural areas, and/or are Native American:

Senior Veterans:

  • Two out of three men age 65+ are veterans
  • Veterans over 55 with a disability are twice as likely to lack access to adequate food
  • Barriers to accessing nutrition assistance: Lack of awareness and/or misconceptions about available programs, stigma, pride, & difficulty navigating the application process.

Native Seniors:

  • There are an estimated 982,494 American Indian/Alaskan Native elders ages 55+
  • Native seniors experience poverty at higher rates than non-native seniors (29.1% vs 15.9%)
  • Barriers to accessing nutrition assistance: lack of access to native foods, distance from grocery stores and social services, lack of transportation, limited availability of home and community-based services and long-term care in their communities, much of which is not culturally appropriate

Rural Seniors:

  • Rural communities are older than suburban and urban communities (18.6% vs 14.1%)
  • Barriers to accessing nutrition assistance: distance from grocery stores and social services, lack of transportation, limited availability of home and community-based services and long-term care in their communities

We need to understand the barriers many populations face in order to best support seniors. To fight senior hunger, we must understand who they are; why they are experiencing hunger, and how we can address the unique barriers that affect them.

In this final week of Older Americans Month, we will be honoring the diverse experiences of Older Americans by exploring the various circumstances that contribute to senior hunger and engaging with those who work with us to combat it.

Join us in conversation Wednesday at 10am Pacific (1pm Eastern) on Twitter for a Tweetchat, and every day under the #ThisIsSeniorHunger hashtag.