Editor’s note: This article is part of Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencers in Aging project honoring 50 people changing how we age and think about aging. Here, Ai-jen Poo, one of the Influencers, discusses the importance of caring for our nation’s caregivers.
Every day, at least 10,000 Americans turn 65. When we imagine the future, most of us envision ourselves living life on our own terms, in our homes and communities, connected to the people we love, even as we become more frail. As Atul Gawande, Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencer of the Year, so eloquently put it, we want to continue to be “the authors of our own stories” as we age.
Yet, most of us don’t have a plan to make that happen, and we as a nation don’t have a plan, either. Our family caregivers are overstretched and our care workforce is underpaid; both are undervalued. Families are pushed into poverty to pay for care. What we have in place simply isn’t sufficient to meet the growing need for care and supportive services in our country.
A New System
Living well in the future will require a fundamental change in our nation’s approach to caregiving. We need a system that supports caregivers, incentivizes professional caregivers to join and stay in the care workforce and helps us all afford the quality care we deserve.
Leadership for this change can and must come from those of us who are feeling the pressure directly. Between the millions living in multi-generational households, family caregivers and professional caregivers, there are at least 100 million of us who are directly affected by the need for care. We know first-hand what’s needed and that the status quo is unsustainable.
Caring Across Generations
Caring Across Generations is the campaign I co-lead with Sarita Gupta, herself a sandwich-generation caregiver and working mom. It is bringing us together across the country, to be the authors of a new caregiving story in America and shift how our nation values caregiving relationships once and for all.
Living well in the future will require a fundamental change in our nation’s approach to caregiving.
Just like we once invested in building railways and highways, we must now invest in systems and infrastructure to support caregiving. We can offer more support to family caregivers, including paid family leave, Social Security caregiver credits and respite care to prevent burnout. We can make quality care more affordable. We can build a strong care workforce by ensuring that professional caregivers receive livable wages and benefits.
All these improvements to our caregiving system are completely within reach, if we put our voices and our votes behind it.
One important way to take steps forward is to offer states the resources they need to design and test innovative caregiving solutions, which is one of the reasons why I am excited about a proposal we are working on with U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). The Living Independently for Extended Time (LIFETIME) Act will establish an Innovation Fund, a federal grant program providing support to states to develop and implement long-term care solutions and pilot programs.
In 2015, several states, with the support of Caring Across Generations, have already taken critical first steps to transform our caregiving infrastructure:
- Washington approved resources for a study on how the state will finance long-term care.
- Colorado created a strategic planning group to identify challenges faced by Colorado’s aging population and to recommend a response.
- In Hawaii, the Long Term Care Commission recommended the establishment of a publicly funded long-term care insurance program for working families — the first such program in the U.S. This proposal will be discussed in the Legislature in 2016.
We can bring caregiving into the 21st century, where care and those who provide it are fundamentally valued. We just need to come together as the caring majority we truly represent and make it inevitable.