Life Plan Communities Failing to Attract Diverse Resident Populations

As the U.S. becomes more racially and ethnically varied, life plan communities would do well to try and attract a more diverse resident and employee population, according to a new report from senior living marketing firm Love & Company. Still, if the data is any indication, such communities have a long way to go.

For the report, researchers analyzed public diversity statistics and conducted an online survey of 1,691 Americans age 65 or older with annual incomes of $35,000 or more. The report also included a survey and a round of phone interviews with senior living executives and administrators.

“There is no time like the present for life plan communities to begin to identify and address both perceptions and realities of their own resident and leadership diversity mix,” the report noted. “As best practices evolve, there may be a growing opportunity for senior living communities to serve older Americans in their areas more inclusively, possibly achieving higher census by enriching their offerings and evolving their internal cultures.”

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Life plan communities’ independent living residents are 95% Caucasian, with only 4% listed as black, and 1% listed as Asian, according to the researchers. Homeownership likely plays a significant role in that disparity, as many couples and older adults moving to a senior living community will sell or rent their home in order to generate cash or a higher income.

As of 2013, there were 21.6 million homes in the U.S. occupied by someone at least 65 years old. However, 84% of those homes belonged to Caucasian homeowners, 8% to black owners, 6% to Hispanic owners and 2% to Asian owners, according to census data.

Life plan community employees were more diverse than the residents they cared for, with slightly more than half (51%) identifying as Caucasian, 25% African American, 17% Hispanic, and 4% Asian. But senior management and board of directors members were overwhelmingly Caucasian—83% and 96%, respectively.

“It is likely that the lack of diversity in many life plan communities was not intentional or planned,” the researchers said. “It is more probably a result of economic barriers (relatively high entry fees and monthly fees at some communities) and perhaps institutional exclusion from having primarily non-diverse community leadership, including both the community executives and board members.”

On the whole, the racial and ethnic makeup of the U.S. population is rapidly changing. Barring any major potential changes to immigration policy, non-Hispanic whites will make up just 43% of the population by 2060, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, people who identify as Hispanic will make up 31% of the U.S. population, followed by people listed as black (15%) and Asian (8%).

Baby Boomers aren’t quite as diverse as the rest of the country, with 72% identifying as Caucasian, according to census data. Just 12% of baby boomers are black, 11% are Hispanic, and 5% are Asian.

To attract the growing share of non-white residents, 36% of the surveyed communities said they implemented marketing tactics for prospective residents from minority groups.

Broadmede, a CCRC in Cockeysville, Maryland, advertises in local newspapers read by African American and Jewish communities. Similarly, Ingleside, a community in Washington, D.C., uses print advertising to reach diverse communities. Specifically, Ingleside advertises in local LGBT publications.

Still, more than half of the surveyed communities that tried marketing efforts to attract minorities said their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, the report noted. That’s possibly because the most successful communities fostered change from within, as opposed to reaching out to external groups.

“The internal changes may include creating a more diverse and representative leadership team, creating a more diverse board, and creating more diverse staff,” the report concluded. “When some of these changes are made, the perception of a community by local citizens (non-community residents) may also change. In these ways a community can improve the perception—and the reality—that it is becoming more diverse and welcoming.”

Written by Tim Regan

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