For many older immigrants in the United States, retirement means just getting by. But a program in San Francisco hopes older low-income Chinese immigrants will do better than that.
The nonprofit Self-Help for the Elderly offers a number of services to the aging Chinese community, including an employment agency, vocational training and job placement where fluency in English isn’t a requirement (such as home health care, home cleaning, janitorial services, hospitality work and, more recently, restaurant cooking).
Self-Help has counselors to act as interpreters with employers when needed. Anni Chung, the organization’s president and chief executive, says the idea is to reach low-income Chinese workers between ages 50 and 55 and to help ensure they earn at least 40 quarters of paid, on-the-books employment, the minimum necessary to file for Social Security. Their typical Social Security income: well under $1,000 a month.
“My goal is to create more job opportunities for older immigrants,” says Chung, 62. “San Francisco is so expensive it will be hard to stay here without work.”
The nonprofit National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA), based in Seattle, Wash., runs 10 Senior Community Service Employment Program Centers (SCSEP) in seven states, primarily serving Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders — part of the federal SCSEP program for workers 55 and older with incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline.
Participants get part-time community service work and are paid the federal minimum wage, or the state minimum if it’s higher. They can stay in the program for up to 48 months; the goal is to get them into unsubsidized jobs. The Asian Pacific Center’s SCSEPs encourage worker participation in the mainstream financial system by using direct deposit of wages into bank accounts.
Eun Jeong Lee, national director of senior community service employment program at NAPCA and Yunju Nam looked into the level of financial understanding among older Asian Americans in three locations, Los Angeles, Orange County and New York. Their report concluded that financial literacy is “very low in terms of financial knowledge, understanding of social programs and financial management.” Nationally, however, SCSEP programs have seen deep federal cuts since the recession.
Put somewhat differently, says Professor Nam: “Think of taking care of your parents without Social Security and Medicare.”