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Hispanics Speak Out: Social Security, Retirement Savings and the Economy

AARP voter survey reflects views on presidential leadership and personal finances

spinner image AARP Hispanic / Latino Voter Survey 2016
Social Security allows some families to make ends meet.
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Rosa MacAfee can still hear the daily clink of a dime hitting the bottom of her mother's ceramic jar, one of the few possessions her parents brought from Mexico to Arizona in the early 1940s. The war effort was in high gear and toys weren't a priority. Yet no matter how stormy financial affairs were at home, her mother's daily deposit ensured that come Christmas, she and her four brothers could count on one toy and one item of clothing. "The only gift I remember was a battleship that my oldest brother got," she says. "It was made out of cardboard, and he had to build it."

That same frugality born out of necessity carries over into her life today. The 78-year-old now battles against the rising cost of living by tracking her every dime. "I'm always making sure that I have enough saved for this and that," says the former human resources administrator. "I saved all year long to make sure I had enough money to repair my '97 Honda Accord, and I shopped around a lot before purchasing a plane ticket to attend my granddaughter's graduation in Chicago."

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By many measures, MacAfee, who retired in 2001, made many of the right moves when managing her finances throughout a decadeslong career. She bought her own home, consistently saved and made some small investments. But, just to be on the safe side, once she retired she withdrew only $1,500 — from the $2,000 her financial planner recommended — from her monthly pension. Like many who "retire," she also took several "bridge" jobs.

Some Social Security Facts
  • In 2015, 19.4 million women received retired worker benefits, 2.3 million received spousal benefits and 4.1 million received survivor benefits.
  • About 75 percent of Hispanics depend on Social Security for part of their family income.
  • Social Security keeps approximately 30 percent of Hispanics out of poverty.

Then the 2008 financial crisis hit. MacAfee witnessed foreclosures all around her, and her $2,000 monthly pension plummeted to $400. Today she admits that if she weren't receiving Social Security benefits, she would have to sell her Phoenix home and apply for government housing. "That's how bad it would be," she says. "The only thing I have now is that small pension and Social Security."

MacAfee is not alone in her economic anxiety. According to an AARP national survey, Hispanic Voters Ages 50+ and the 2016 Election: Thoughts on Social Security and Presidential Leadership, conducted in March, Hispanics are somewhat less satisfied (52 percent) than older voters overall (58 percent) on the matter of their retirement savings. Surprisingly, while Hispanics feel more positive about the economy (53 percent) than older voters overall (43 percent), this same optimism does not translate into satisfaction with their own financial circumstances — they are no more likely than older voters to be satisfied.

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These financial shortfalls, according to the survey, worry retirees like MacAfee and nonretirees alike. People throughout the country are grappling with a relentless list: paying their mortgages, not having enough money, dealing with inflation and health care costs (including high prescription drug costs). One misstep — or in MacAfee's case, hurting a knee and having to quit a part-time job — can set off a potentially devastating domino effect. For millions, Social Security benefits continue to be the only safeguard from this chain reaction.

spinner image AARP Hispanic / Latino Voter Survey 2016

Take a Stand on Social Security

At the beginning of the presidential campaign, AARP launched Take a Stand, a national campaign asking, on behalf of all voters, that every presidential candidate lay out his or her plan to make Social Security financially sound. This means ensuring adequate income for future generations to receive the benefits they earned. According to the campaign, if our leaders fail to act, it's estimated that future generations could lose up to $10,000 per year.

"Hispanics pay into Social Security, and they deserve to know where the presidential candidates stand on updating Social Security for their kids and grandkids," says Belén Mendoza, vice president of AARP Campaigns. "That's why AARP's Take a Stand campaign is holding the candidates accountable for telling Hispanics and all Americans their plan and how it would affect people and their families. Anybody who thinks they're ready to be president should be able to tell voters where they stand on the future of Social Security."

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According to the study, 83 percent of Hispanics believe that having a plan for Social Security is a basic threshold for presidential leadership, and 97 percent believe it's important for the candidates to share their plans to update Social Security for future generations.

MacAfee agrees. She's not only seen the benefits of Social Security in her own life, but also across generations of her family. Like many women, she was the primary caretaker for her mother, who struggled with Alzheimer's disease, from 2004 to 2011. And like many Latinos who traditionally have rejected a long-term care or assisted living facility option, she had her mother move in with her.

"All she had was Social Security from my dad, who had passed away," she says. "Up until then we were all contributing for her maintenance." More recently, MacAfee's grandson started to receive Social Security benefits when his mother suddenly died. He receives them because his mother had received Social Security disability benefits.

"If it weren't for Social Security," MacAfee says, "I don't know what I'd be doing."

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