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Your Money, Your Goals – Overcoming Barriers Through Financial Empowerment

This article was originally published by the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA)

Finances can be overwhelming for many people, and a variety of factors can increase financial challenges, especially for elders.

Economic barriers

Economic barriers are a significant challenge for many who already feel that finances are overwhelming, and these barriers in turn can create additional challenges, often related to health.

Low-income households, especially people that live and work in areas where there is a lack of employment or educational resources (which disproportionately include racial and ethnic minorities), often experience a lack of access to healthy lifestyle options. Low-income households also have an increase in morbidity and mortality rates compared to higher income households. Poverty alone serves to increases barriers to services and makes everyday life harder for elders.

Economic barriers also prevent many people from managing daily tasks and challenges and negatively affect their ability to plan for the future, including retirement. Behavioral economic research shows that low-income households are often so overwhelmed by their money worries and challenges that their “mental bandwidth,” or the capacity of the brain’s ability to perform basic functions, becomes dramatically reduced. Because of this, many people become unable to see beyond their immediate crisis, causing other parts of their life to fall through the cracks, like paying bills or other important tasks. Furthermore, this constant worry creates stress, which adds to the overwhelmed feeling of financial insecurity and vulnerability.

AI/AN elders

Beyond economic barriers, being part of a minority group also can create challenges. For example, financial issues are of significance to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) elders.

In 2013, AI/ANs had the highest poverty rate of any group, 29.2% as opposed to the nation as a whole at 15.9%. Projected poverty rates for AI/AN elders in 2030 are 10.9%, more than twice the rest of the total population, which is projected to be 4.7%. Furthermore, a research study stated that “The elderly AI/AN group consistently fares worse than the total population in the health and economic characteristics examined,” which included “health status, work limitation status, disability status, lifetime earnings, per capita Social Security benefits, per capita income, per capita wealth, and poverty.”

Financial abuse

On top of these challenges, elder financial abuse and exploitation is a growing problem, particularly for racial, ethnic minority, and LGBT elders. Worries about economic stability increase significantly when an elder is a victim of financial exploitation.

Financial exploitation is defined as the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit. “Senior financial abuse scams are a multi-billion dollar ‘industry’… [and] studies estimate the annual financial loss nationwide to be around $2.9 billion … [but] these figures do not account for the tens of billions spent on indirect costs for medical care, social services, and legal costs, or for the pain and suffering of the victims.”

What NICOA is doing

To address some of these challenges, NICOA will be delivering the Your Money, Your Goals toolkit and the companion guide Focus on Native Communities in a train-the-trainer format, with the goal of developing an ongoing, sustainable training program. The training program gives an organization’s frontline staff and volunteers the resources they need to help people they serve set goals, choose financial products, and build skills in managing money, credit, and debt.

This program also includes information about the cultural and emotional influences on financial decision making within Indian country, and the important considerations in Native communities where traditional community values may seem to conflict with some approaches to financial management.

NICOA is hosting a FREE two-part Your Money, Your Goals train-the-trainer webinar series on Aug. 30 from 2 – 3:30 p.m. CT. To register and get more information, visit the event page.

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About National Indian Council on Aging

The National Indian Council On Aging, Inc. (NICOA) is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1976 and is dedicated to aging American Indian and Alaska Native Elders. The mission of NICOA is to advocate for improved comprehensive health, social services, and economic well-being for American Indian and Alaska Native elders.