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Study: Older Black Americans are 3 times more likely to experience homelessness

ANN ARBOR—African Americans are three times more likely to experience homelessness at least once in their lives, according to a national study which examines lifetime homeless rates.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Boston College reviewed data from the 2012 and 2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, a biennial, longitudinal survey of older Americans by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

The researchers analyzed baby boomers born in the years 1946-1963 and found that one in six black Americans had been homeless at some point, compared with one in twenty for whites. The findings shed light on a high degree of racial disparity among older adults experiencing homelessness – a disparity that persists even after taking into account other factors, such as differences by race in education.

“It’s very hard to collect data on individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness,” says Helen Levy, co-author and research professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research. “One way around this is to ask people at mid-life: has this ever happened to you? This helps make clear what a widespread problem it is.”

“Federal data and previous studies show racial and ethnic disparities in homelessness, but both look either at a single point in time or over a very short period,” says Vincent Fusaro, a co-author of the study and assistant professor of social work at Boston College. “The differences in the likelihood of experiencing homelessness at least once are stark when we look over the course of a lifetime. Since homelessness is itself a risk factor for poor health and mental health, it leads us to think about the relationships between homelessness and disparities in other kinds of outcomes.”