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Older Koreans, Cambodians in LA County among most impoverished, new report finds

More than 300 people turned out to oppose the Keiro sale, many wearing red bands in protest.
Josie Huang/KPCC
FILE: Seniors turned out last October to protest the sale of a group of Los Angeles retirement and nursing homes that serve older Japanese Americans. According to a new report released Wednesday, many Asian Americans over 50 face poverty, language barriers, limited access to health services and housing challenges.

While Asian Americans as a group appear well-off, a new report released Wednesday finds that many elderly Korean and Cambodians are more likely to live in poverty and without access to health care in L.A. County.

The report, produced by AARP and the nonprofit group Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, examines the status of the 480,000 Asian Americans and 11,000 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders over age 50 living in the county.

Researchers said breaking out the individual ethnic groups provides a better understanding of the problems facing older Asian Americans, whose challenges may be masked when all are lumped together.

"The seniors are really the epicenter of having low income, high non-English-speaking populations, and having very distinct needs in health, rentals, et cetera," said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in L.A and KPCC life trustee (honorary). "So we really need to pay special attention to the 50-plus year and older populations."

According to the report, almost 90 percent of older Asian Americans are immigrants, which can impact the delivery of services and information to them. Many have limited English that restricts their ability to get basic services. 

"Cambodians, Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese and Thai residents have high rates of limited English, thus addressing language barriers is "critical to better serving Asian American older adults," the report states.

"The first thing is making sure there are enough services available in-language," said Connie Chung Joe, executive director of Korean American Family Services. She joined a panel Wednesday morning at the Japanese American National Museum downtown to discuss the report.

"I think right now we think about translating things into Spanish, but we don't think about translating them into the API (Asian-Pacific Islander) languages because there are so many of them," she said, "but if you want to serve seniors, that is the first thing you need to do."

Koreans and Cambodians over 65 are more likely than any racial group to live below the poverty line, researchers said. The two groups also have home ownership rates lower than any other racial grouping.

Some of those who rent have it especially tough. According to the report, nearly 40 percent of Cambodians over 65 spend at least half their household income on rent. And while elderly Japanese Americans have the highest home ownership rates, those who rent also struggle. Forty-four percent of Japanese Americans over 65 who rent spend at least half their income on housing.

Affordable senior housing is hard to come by, researchers said, with sometimes 10-year waits for senior housing.

Health-wise, Asians also are more likely than non-Latino whites to have high blood cholesterol and diabetes, while many Cambodians and Vietnamese Americans over 50 have cognitive challenges and difficulties living independently. At the same time, many lack access to health care, according to the report.

Educational attainment also differs by ethnic group. Only about 43 percent of older Cambodians, for example, hold a high school degree or higher.

The full report, "A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans 50 and Older (Los Angeles County)," can be read below. 

This story has been updated.