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.

 

Lessons in Organizing from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

January 17, 2017
· 51 rsvps

Join DSA Vice-Chair Chris Riddiough to explore what we can learn from the work of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1969-77), the largest of the socialist feminist women’s unions of the 1970s, which had a rock band, a graphics collective, the underground abortion collective JANE, and numerous other projects. Check out their website and join the discussion via internet connection.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 41 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. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 10 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

February 15, 2017
· 50 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 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 1 rsvp

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 check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 2 rsvps

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.