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.

 

Feminist Working Group

December 14, 2016
· 39 rsvps

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 election.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Turning Members into Leaders

December 28, 2016
· 2 rsvps

Are you starting a new group? Or have you been doing most of the work for your longtime group? Has it been hard to keep new people involved or get them to take responsibility? But suddenly everybody wants to jump in at the same time! Learn how to mentor new leaders and make sure they have all the information and tools they need to succeed.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

NOTE: This training is at 9:00pm Eastern (8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific). Please RSVP.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy.

In Leadership Development you will learn:

The proven steps to developing the leadership skills and commitment of more members:

  • identifying potential leaders
  • recognizing what each one brings to the group
  • asking people to volunteer
  • giving them specific tasks
  • supporting them in their efforts
  • creating opportunities for new leadership
  • following up.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for local leaders who will lead campaigns in their chapters.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org 607-280-7649.
  • If you think you can't do it by computer, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  • You can participate in every workshop or just attend once in a while.
  • Workshops will generally be on a weekends or evenings.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance -- by midnight Monday.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

January 19, 2017
· 17 rsvps

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.  8:30 PM ET; 7:30 PM CT; 6:30 PM MT; 5:30 PM PT.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 8 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.