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Doctoral Student Studies Latino Boomers

Doctoral Student Studies Latino Boomers
USC Davis School of Gerontology Ph.D. student Zach Gassoumis

As the aging wave crashes upon the country with the first group of baby boomers turning 65 this year, one important component of the boomer generation is often overlooked: Latinos.

To support his investigation into the economic security of Latino baby boomers, USC Davis School of Gerontology Ph.D. student Zach Gassoumis won a $28,000 dissertation fellowship in retirement income and disability insurance research from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

“There’s so much work to be done on the economic status of Latinos, and it’s exciting to have the freedom provided by the fellowship to really focus on my dissertation research,” he said. “We’re one of very few groups – if not the only one – looking at the financial security of Latino baby boomers, and having support from the Center for Retirement Research both validates and underscores the importance of our work.”

His mentor, Kate Wilber, said: “This prestigious award is recognition of the influential work that Zach has been doing. His work has already been published in several academic journals, and he was invited to present his most recent findings at a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., in July.”

Gassoumis became interested in this area of study in 2006, when he began working with Wilber on a large research project under USC and UCLA professor Fernando Torres-Gil regarding the financial security of Latino older adults. His interest in building financial security in the years before retirement made the focus on pre-retirement Latino baby boomers a natural fit.

“Although Latinos account for a relatively small proportion of the baby boomer population – about 10 percent – this generation is leading the way for the more ethnically diverse cohorts that follow,” Gassoumis said. “It’s an intriguing population, in part because of when they were born and the changes and challenges many have experienced throughout their lives. “The good news is that Latino boomers are faring better than previous generations in terms of education levels, economic security and other characteristics, but there is still a rather significant gap to close.”

Gassoumis hopes that his findings will improve economic security for future cohorts of Latino retirees through identification and quantification of barriers to economic security throughout their working life, including disparities in education, English-language proficiency and citizenship status.

“For the economic strength of the country, it is to everyone’s benefit to have these disparities really level off,” he said. “In the recent past, Latinos had considerably lower income and wealth than non-Latinos, regardless of education and other factors, but that gap appears to be shrinking. Our ultimate goal should be to level the playing field by identifying and targeting the sources of economic disparity.”

While a plethora of research on minority health status exists within gerontology, Gassoumis points to the relative scarcity of similar work done on minority economic security and to the closely intertwined relationship between the two.

He credited the interdisciplinary, holistic perspective on research and aging embraced by Wilber and USC Davis for giving him a strong foundation from which to make a real-world difference with his work.

“My research has been enriched immensely by the wide variety of topics addressed in professor Wilber’s lab, including elder abuse in Latino communities and health service delivery, all of which has allowed me to examine the interplay of economic security with general well-being and successful aging,” he said. “If we’re able to bring about change in how the younger Latino boomers and successive generations perceive their prospects for financial health, then we can help them develop the tools to have a fruitful and enjoyable retirement.”

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