En español | An overwhelming majority of older Americans are concerned about the coronavirus, according to the results of a new AARP poll. The survey clearly shows that the pandemic has affected the 50-plus population's health, lifestyle and financial security.
"Older Americans realize the impact of this virus,” said Bill Sweeney, AARP senior vice president for governmental affairs. “They're deeply, deeply concerned about it; they're very worried for their own health care, worried about the health of their loved ones.”
The survey, conducted for AARP by NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan research organization, also clearly shows that African Americans and Hispanics are the most worried about COVID-19. Among all those polled, 75 percent of African Americans, 65 percent of Hispanics and 59 percent of non-Hispanic whites said they are very concerned about the pandemic.
"I think certainly we've seen that there are inequities in our health care system that have resulted in really tragic disparities in the mortality rates for this virus across different racial and ethnic groups,” Sweeney said.
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According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, in states that have reported coronavirus data by ethnicity, African Americans accounted for a higher share of confirmed cases in 20 of 31 states and of COVID-19 deaths in 19 of 24 states than their share of the state's total population.
"I think the idea that essentially that 94 percent of this age group are concerned, or somewhat concerned at this point, is fairly extraordinary,” said J. Michael Dennis, executive director of AmeriSpeak, the department at NORC that conducted the survey. “Usually in surveys you don't find numbers that are that high.” Dennis also said that compared to the overall population, “we see adults age 50 and over as having substantially higher levels of concern and worry about the pandemic."
The poll surveyed 2,796 older Americans on April 20 and 21 on questions including how concerned they were about the virus, how the pandemic has affected them personally and what measures Congress should take to respond to this public health emergency.
Here's a look at some other key findings of this survey.
Virus fears are widespread
The results also showed that nearly 1 in 5 respondents are very worried that one of their existing health conditions will put them at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus and that 17 percent worry they won't be able to care for a family member or friend.
Dennis called this “one of the major findings of this survey because this is the population that has the most to lose in terms of mortality and other health risks. These are the people who are seeing actual heartfelt consequences for them and their family."
The virus has affected aspects of older Americans’ lives beyond health, the poll finds. “At AARP we've heard from people all over the country, and one of the things we've heard the most is real financial devastation, especially among people who are retired and have seen huge, huge losses in their retirement accounts across the board,” Sweeney said. “So, there is a really, really serious financial impact of this virus."
50-plus population being careful
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19. And 8 out of 10 deaths from the virus reported in the United States have been in people 65 and older.
"I think it's really remarkable and gives me hope when we see that our older Americans are following the social distancing guidelines and handwashing,” Sweeney said.
Coronavirus has financial implications
In addition to the nearly one-third of older workers who suffered financially because of the coronavirus, 1 in 10 respondents said they had to risk exposure to the virus because they couldn’t afford to stay home and miss work.
“It’s really scary for people who every day have to go to these essential jobs that all of us count on,” Sweeney said. “They’re scared to death and they’re putting their lives at risk and the health of their family members at risk.”
The survey also shows widespread support for additional stimulus payments, with 83 percent of all respondents agreeing that Congress should act, including 92 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans.
Workers need protections
"We've urged Congress to extend the unemployment insurance expansion that they put in place in the CARES Act throughout the course of this emergency declaration — not just for 13 weeks at a time, but for as long as it takes,” Sweeney said.
In addition to supporting extended unemployment insurance, survey respondents were almost unanimous in their opinion that workers on the front lines should get paid sick leave. Overwhelming support for such a benefit for employees in health care, grocery stores, restaurants and delivery services crosses party lines, with 99 percent of Democrats, 97 percent of independents and 98 percent of Republicans agreeing.
There also was virtual unanimity — 99 percent — among older Americans when it came to support for providing personal protective equipment for people working on the front lines. “Usually in surveys you don't see numbers that are in the 90s,” said Dennis.
50-plus Americans want congressional action
"We've heard from people all over the country that access to food has been challenging for people — not only because they don't have the money to pay for groceries but that they're scared about leaving the house to go to the grocery store,” Sweeney said.
AARP has encouraged the federal government to increase the amount of money people get each month from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and to expand the availability of online shopping for SNAP — or food stamp — recipients.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently expanded a pilot program that allows recipients to order their groceries online. The program now includes 15 states and the District of Columbia, covering more than half of all households that receive this federal nutrition assistance.