One in five older LGBT adults experienced poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic

A new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that during the COVID-19 pandemic LGBT adults aged 50 and older were more likely to have household incomes below the federal poverty level and to receive food assistance benefits than straight, cisgender adults.

Among LGBT older adults, economic disparity by race/ethnicity was pronounced. Among those aged 65+, Black and Hispanic LGBT people were twice as likely to experience poverty, rent versus own a home, have trouble paying bills and expenses, and face food insecurity as their white LGBT peers.

Using data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, researchers examined the demographics, health, and economic experiences of LGBT adults aged 50–64 and those aged 65 and older during the COVID-19 pandemic. Results show that in both cohorts, LGBT people were more likely than straight/cisgender people to report experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms.

“The COVID-19 pandemic likely exacerbated economic and social instability for LGBT older adults, but this vulnerability isn’t new,” said lead author Lauren J.A. Bouton, Research Data Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Many LGBT older adults have experienced a lifetime of systemic discrimination and its negative impacts on health and well-being.”

Key Findings

Economic Factors

  • Around 20% of older LGBT people in both cohorts had incomes below the federal poverty level compared to 15% of straight/cisgender people.
  • LGBT older people were more also likely than straight/cisgender people to receive food assistance (SNAP) benefits.
  • In both age cohort groups, approximately half of Black and Hispanic LGBT older adults rent rather than own their homes compared to a quarter of their white and Asian peers.

Health and Well-Being

  • One-quarter of LGBT adults aged 65+ lived alone compared to 15% of straight/cisgender adults aged 65+.
  • Slightly higher percentages of LGBT older people than straight/cisgender people have been vaccinated for COVID-19, though the majority of all groups have been vaccinated.
  • Similar proportions of LGBT and straight/cisgender people had tested positive or been diagnosed with COVID-19 (ages 50–64: 38% vs. 41% and ages 65+: 25% vs. 28%, respectively).

Mental Health

  • Around one-third (31%) of LGBT adults aged 50–64 reported experiencing anxiety and about one-quarter (23%) reported experiencing depression. Fewer straight/cisgender adults aged 65+ experienced anxiety (22%) and depression (15%).
  • LGBT adults in both cohorts were about twice as likely as straight/cisgender adults to report needing help from a mental health professional and not getting it (ages 50–64: 16% vs. 8% and ages 65+: 7% vs. 4%, respectively).

“These findings underscore the unique needs of LGBT older adults as they navigate the aging process,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “Issues like isolation, food insecurity, and a lack of LGBT-specialized healthcare providers require special attention from LGBT service providers, policymakers, and researchers.”

Read the report

January 19, 2023

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