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African American Experiences in the Economy: Recession Effects More Strongly Felt

While millions of Americans have experienced hard times during the economic recession, the environment for many African Americans age 45+ and their families has been particularly difficult.  This survey is part of AARP’s continued look at how Americans age 45 and older are faring in this economy.

African Americans age 45+ have been forced to make increasingly difficult decisions to cope with this economic downturn—decisions that could have serious long-term consequences.   A third (34%) stopped putting money into a 401(k), IRA or other retirement account, and a quarter (26%) prematurely withdrew funds from their retirement nest eggs to pay for living expenses, including mortgage or rent, health care, education expenses, and for other reasons.  More than three in ten (31%) have cut back on their medications, and 28% have carried a higher balance on their credit cards during the past 12 months.

This economic recession has had a devastating impact on the African American community. The survey, found that over the last 12 months, a third (33%) of African Americans 45+ had problems paying rent or mortgage, and 44% had problems paying for essential items, such as food and utilities.   Nearly twice as many African Americans 45+ lost a job than the general population (18% vs. 10%), and almost one in four (23%) lost their employer-sponsored health insurance.

Faced with the extraordinary impact of this economy, African Americans 45+ are more likely to turn to family or the community for assistance, and are more likely to help family members and friends cope with financial hardships. About one in five African Americans 45+ (22%) consulted friends or family members about finances. Eighteen percent had a child move in for financial reasons, and 44% helped a child pay bills or expenses.  Almost one in five (18%) helped a parent pay for basic necessities. African Americans age 45+ were more than twice as likely as all Americans 45+ to seek financial assistance from family, friends, charities and churches (28% vs. 13%).

While some African Americans age 45+ are looking for resources and tools to provide financial information, many may not be aware or are not taking advantage of the accessible resources available to them. African Americans 45+ were half as likely as all Americans in that age group to seek out a financial planner (12% vs. 24%), and only one in ten (11%) consulted online resources about financial planning.

African Americans studied were more likely than the general population to enhance job skills and career training.  Thirteen percent have taken training to get a different type of job, and 18% have attended a job fair to help with their career or job search.  Three in ten reported taking training to keep skills up to date or learn new skills for their current job. More African Americans relative to the general population plan to take training , look for a new job, attend a job fair, use the internet for job-related activities, and start their own business.

AARP commissioned Woelfel Research to complete telephone interviews with a nationally representative general sample of 1,002 adults ages 45 and older and a targeted sample of 405 African Americans age 45 and older between January 15 and 27, 2010. The results from the study were weighted by age and gender. For more information, contact Rebecca Perron at (202) 434-6324. (55 pages)