What Does an Age Justice Agenda Look Like?
We all have a care story. This is about “us,” not “them”.
My care story began 50 years ago when my Bubbe Jenny had a stroke and ended up in a nursing home. This was 1970, and Medicaid home care didn’t exist. She died six months later, bitter, and it tore my mother and uncle apart. Somewhere, in my 21-year-old mind heading off to social work school, I thought— this sucks. There was no help for my bubbe or my family. I wanted to do something about that. Now, I’ve aged into my own field.
The time is overdue for a feminist agenda across the lifespan. How can we collectively build a just society allowing women to thrive at every age, including an age justice agenda for older women? Older women are more likely to live in poverty and live alone. Family caregivers are mostly women. In NYS, 2.5 million caregivers provide $31 billion of free care – largely daughters and daughters-in-law. The care workforce is predominantly women of color (WOC) and immigrants.
So, who are we talking about in NYC? There are over 1.7 million people, age 60+, in NYC. Over half of older New Yorkers are people of color (POC) and immigrants. Almost 20% of older New Yorkers live in poverty facing economic insecurity in housing, food security, health care, transportation and so on. Thousands more struggling just above the poverty level are hanging on the fiscal cliff.
While broadly speaking there is discrimination on the basis of age across the lifespan, it is ageism in our older years that is insidious – and deadly. Age discrimination targets older adults as irrelevant, unheard and disposable – literally sometimes, as older adults are systemically physically pushed out of their communities.
This is where the Fair Pay for Home Care Act comes in. It is a solution we know how to do. Home care workers are paid poverty-level wages averaging $18,600 annually, which often forces them to leave their jobs to be able to care for their own families. There are parts of New York state where you simply can’t find a home care worker. You can earn more money working at McDonald’s. That means older adults and people with disabilities can’t live independently at home. That means your daughter and daughter-in-law are the best long-term care insurance there is, if you have one, to take on more responsibility. They will do this, but deserve support.
The Fair Pay for Home Care Act would raise home care wages to 150% of the highest minimum wage in a region – around $22.50 per hour. A large-scale investment could generate 20,000 home care jobs and 17,000 other related jobs annually. Older adults, people with disabilities, home care workers and family caregivers are working together to enact this transformative legislation. Let the other side of COVID bring the building of a care economy we so sorely need.
The debacle caused by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration appears to have resulted in 15,000 COVID deaths of nursing home residents. The catastrophe has landed more heavily on POC in nursing homes – both residents and workers. Public policy choices to invest in nursing homes instead of investing in a care infrastructure where we older adults are seen as core and central to communities is ageist. When will society deem older adults and people with disabilities important enough to have the infrastructure for care put in place?
My care story turned into my career as an advocate for services for older adults. I lobbied in City Hall and Albany for 28 years, and I continue this work now. During those 28 years, I found that what gets lost is the power and dynamism of growing old. As we get older, we gather momentum. We bring experience, skills, resilience and perspective to the table as anchors in our communities and families. Rather than being overlooked, imagine the collective good built to open up to this momentum.
Let me say it clearly – we older adults are part of the future, not just the past. That’s to all our benefit. There comes a time we may all need care. It’s called life, being human.
Bobbie Sackman is a long-time advocate for older New Yorkers including 28 years as the Director of Public Policy with LiveOn NY. She’s a campaign leader for the NY Caring Majority and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). The NY Caring Majority is comprised of older adults, PWD, home care workers and family caregivers working to address the injustices within our long-term care system.