When you think about global poverty, who comes to mind? Maybe a person on another continent, or a young mother. Chances are, you are not thinking about older people. Older people represent the fastest growing population on earth. In just a few years, there will be 1 billion people over the age of 60; most of these will live in developing countries.
In the new report “Ageing in the Twenty-first Century: A Celebration and a Challenge,” global focus groups with older people from high-income, middle-income and low-income countries found that 53 percent of those interviewed had difficulty paying for basic services. While the world looks to eradicate poverty, older people must be part of the equation. Sixty-six percent of older people said that they would like paid employment; 33 percent of older people actually worked for pay in the previous month. What this shows is that older people want to be part of the solution to poverty, if society chooses to accept them.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights focused on older people’s poverty in 2010. She found that older people are systematically excluded from formal and informal work, most are lacking social protection, and they must fight an uphill battle of discrimination. Many women, who often live longer than men, face the effects of a lifetime of discriminations in employment, education, training, and wages. More than half of all older women in India, for example, live with no valuable assets to their name. And make no mistake, old age poverty does not just exist in developing countries; 9 percent of older Americans live below the poverty line, and 26 percent of them live on extremely low incomes. Older people face old age discrimination and negative stereotyping as they seek employment around the world, exacerbating their poverty.
We cannot eradicate poverty without eradicating poverty at all ages. Right now, governmental and intergovernmental systems like the United Nations and the Organization of American States are grappling with the discrimination, marginalization and exclusion older people face by describing their specific human rights. We cannot truly begin to treat older people as people of equal worth and dignity without recognizing such systematic discriminations in society. By addressing these complex issues, we can create a world that is more secure for people of all ages.
By Bethany Brown, JD Policy Director, HelpAge USA. Come learn more about global aging on October 17, 2012, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. in room 902 of the Hart Senate Office Building, located on Constitution Avenue, between 1st and 2nd Streets, NE, Washington, D.C.
Photo: Older Woman in Tanzania (c) Jeff Williams, HelpAge.
This blog is part of a series in recognition of the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Oct. 17.