By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.
There is a growing body of research that indicates that the stressors of poverty change the brain. The brain, then, is less capable of finding solutions to problems of poverty and so the person cannot easily change their situation. This research indicates there may well be a link between how poverty affects the brains of children in poverty, and thus the cycle continues. Poor families remain poor. Interventions are not readily accessed or helpful.
Many people view affordable housing as a safety net – one way to help support families so they can work their way out of poverty. However, there are some people who spend their whole lives needing more and more supports. Not surprisingly, these people often end up needing affordable housing as they enter their later years.
The curious thing about people who are old and poor is that there is a shift in public opinion toward these people – they are no longer viewed as needing to support themselves and they are more viewed as those who we should support. This shift exists despite the growing recognition that as we live longer, we should be engaged longer in economic fulfillment.
I consider it positive that people are empathic toward others as they age, but every plus has a minus. This shift does feel like as a society we “give up” on our elders having meaningful employment and bettering their situation.
Take, for example, the Neighborhood Networks program started by HUD in 1995. In their wisdom, HUD wanted to use affordable housing sites as community centers to create an opportunity for those who lived in low income areas. HUD envisioned using the common areas of affordable housing sites to establish classes where people could use technology to brush up their resume, engage with job postings online, and otherwise learn new skills for a changing workforce.
Created in 1995, Neighborhood Networks was one of the first federal initiatives aimed at promoting self-sufficiency and providing technology access to residents living in HUD housing. By encouraging property owners and managers to open onsite, multiservice technology centers, HUD hoped the community-based initiative would have a profound effect on the lives of residents, and indeed, it has.
In senior housing, the focus of this program has been allowing seniors to become familiar with computers and use them to better their lives, whether through staying in touch with family and friends via e-mail or searching for healthcare benefits online.
With younger groups, the focus of the Neighborhood Networks has been on income security, especially employment opportunities. The number of people over the age of 55 who are participating in the workforce is down by 2 million compared to pre-pandemic levels. Perhaps it is time to consider senior employment a priority, especially now that remote work has become more of a standard.
Many older people still want (and some need) to be working. Our society benefits immensely from the experience and skills of our older workforce. It is time to reinvest in this group with programs like Neighborhood Networks and consider our older workers an asset.