This piece first appeared in Truthout. Read the original there.
Today, there is as much to assist as there is to resist.
Creation counters destruction. In this turbulent political climate, the dismantling of our democracy must be countered with the construction of a society that reflects our values and imagines the future that we want, not the one we’re being handed. And there are so many of us who are doing just that.
At Caring Across Generations, a national campaign to support caregiving in the 21st century, the values we believe in are care, interdependence and dignity. This means caring for our older generations, who are living longer than ever before due to advances in modern medicine and technology. It means recognizing and nurturing their interdependence with the caregivers — whether family members or professionals — whose love and hard work enable older people to age in place and connected to community. And all of our work is grounded in fighting for our collective dignity. We fight with and for caregiving families that are struggling to make ends meet, as parents support elders and children while holding down jobs. And we fight with and for people with disabilities, who deserve independence and support, and on whose decades of activism we are building on for a more caring future.
That is why we have teamed up with Maine People’s Alliance, a statewide membership organization of diverse Mainers, to imagine Home Care for All, a ballot initiative that would establish a home care trust fund to allow aging Mainers to stay at home, support family caregivers and invest in care jobs becoming good jobs.
For decades, our caregiving systems have not served the needs of working families. There are over 100 million Americans who are directly affected by the need for better family care. Family caregivers alone number 44 million in the United States, from all walks of life, income levels, educational backgrounds and ages. The caregiving workforce is around 3 million people, mostly women making poverty wages. In 2015, there were 19 million people under the age of 65 and 14 million over 65 who needed this kind of care. Then you have caregivers in assisted living facilities, family members coordinating care from afar or helping to pay for a loved one’s care. Add up all these numbers, and almost one out of every three Americans is in this Caring Majority.
With a growing older population and growing numbers of people who need assistance with managing chronic illnesses, or simple activities of daily life, the need for elder care, particularly in the home, is exploding. Whereas, in many communities, caregiving was once mainly done by the women of the family who were expected to stay at home, today more than 70 percent of children in the US are growing up in households where all the adults work outside of the home. Plus, there’s now a growing segment of our workforce that is sandwiched between managing the care of their children and their parents while working. (These workers are often referred to as the “sandwich generation.”)
For their own part, the caregiving workers that we rely upon to help support the care needs of families are faced with pressures of their own. Poverty wages, lack of access to benefits or a safety net, along with unpredictable or long hours all lead to high rates of turnover, and the instability of the workforce contributes to the overall insecurity of families who struggle to ensure their loved ones can age with dignity. Despite the home care workforce being the fastest growing workforce in the economy, the annual median income is just $13,000.
Home Care for All would make home care available to all Mainers. The fund would be governed by a board that includes representatives of all key stakeholder groups: personal care agencies; individual providers (who work independently or for a home care agency); and people receiving in-home care, or family members or guardians of such individuals. The fund would be paid for by partially closing a payroll and unearned income tax loophole for those with incomes over $127,000, as well as a small employer contribution, and would be accessible to all Mainers with disabilities or older adults who need assistance with one or more activity of daily living.
This is an opportunity to significantly address a real crisis facing millions of people in the US and to create a society that reflects our values. Rarely do we have policies that directly reflect what people need. The members of Maine People’s Alliance, together with a strong coalition of stakeholder groups in the state, are working together to ensure that the solution addresses everyone’s needs. Volunteers who collected signatures talked to voters in community centers, schools and transportation hubs, and shared stories of encountering family caregivers who wept when they heard of the measure.
Home Care for All is an example of how voters are taking the future into their own hands at the state level this year. On January 26, 2018, retirees, veterans, family caregivers and home care workers gathered in Augusta, Maine, to announce the submission of more than 67,000 signatures to Maine’s Secretary of State to place this citizens’ initiative on the November ballot. They are showing us that this year in US politics can be what we make it. They’re expanding what’s possible not only for Mainers, but for all of us. Which state is next?
The stakes are high in the midterm election year. But beyond its election outcomes, this is a year in which to model our political aspirations for the future. What are the policy solutions that embody the systems and frameworks that will create equity and opportunity in the future? Who are the candidates that embody the values of a healthy, multiracial democracy for the 21st century? Who or what are we waiting for?
The solutions and the leaders we need are already among us.