Demographics and the Care Crisis

The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America
By Ai-jen Poo, 176 pp., The New Press, 2015

In this slim but engaging volume, Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), argues that an increasingly aging U.S. population requires a drastic shift in an already inadequate care economy. She contends that a sustainable system of care will entail not only accessible, affordable, high-quality care for all who need it but also fair wages and working conditions for the swelling work force providing that care. Public programs must be restructured and the cultural stigma that surrounds care work, aging, and disability in the United States removed. She urges people to work toward better systems of care on every level, from the national to local co-op living arrangements. 

Poo weaves together experiences of recipients of care, unpaid family caregivers, and paid caring professionals with statistical and historical information. She addresses the way that oppressive dynamics of gender, race, class, migration, and age structure the caring economy for both care workers and recipients of care. She also emphasizes how our society has consistently de-prioritized and undervalued care and care work.

Poo’s ability to make this demographic and policy issue come alive is no doubt a product of her 15 years of experience in grassroots organizing for domestic workers’ rights. Before heading the NDWA, she was the lead organizer for Domestic Workers United (DWU), a New York City-based organization that she and others started in 2000.

In 2010, after a decade of organizing, DWU and its allies succeeded in getting a “Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights” passed in New York State. This legislation was the first in the U.S. to mandate a number of basic labor protections, including paid overtime and a working environment free from discrimination and harassment within the domestic work industry. Since then, domestic worker rights activists have won similar legislation in Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Connecticut, and are currently pushing for a bill in Illinois.

DWU’s organizing success in New York centered largely on nannies and their employers. Because employers of nannies are generally affluent, organizers could win support by arguing that fair pay and good working conditions were ultimately good for both recipients and providers of care. Despite their successes, DWU and NDWA had to confront the limitations to this strategy. The majority of paid domestic workers in the United States are home care assistants and home health aides. They have been hired out of necessity, and their rate of reimbursement for care is often set by Medicare and Medicaid. Even if employers can pay out of pocket, they still may not be able to afford more than the bare minimum. In these cases, paying more would mean fewer hours for workers and less care for employers, when many people already receive less care than they need.

Therefore, DWU and NDWA brought together care worker, immigrant, senior, and disability rights advocates to form a national “Caring Across Generations” campaign in 2011.

Poo makes a strong case for drastic change in the system. Equally compelling is the idea, which runs throughout The Age of Dignity, that to meet the challenge we must stop thinking of care as a “social cost.” She prefers to speak of “social investment.” The challenge Poo does not pose, though, is whether these goals can be met without overturning the for-profit structure imposed on all economic activity in this country. If the care crisis is as pressing as she suggests, meeting it may entail an even greater paradigm shift, one that replaces a market-based notion of “social good” with one based on human welfare.

Elena Blanc is DSA’s membership coordinator.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
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You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
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Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

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Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
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Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

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Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
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Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
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People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
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You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.