In the coming years, our nation will face myriad challenges related to the care of the growing number of aging Americans. Elder care encompasses many things, from health care to retirement security to the mental, physical, and financial costs of caring for those who cared for us. Current policies and practices for tending to the needs of elders are expensive, haphazard, and emotionally challenging. There is a great need for policies that help Americans care for their aging loved ones, and these policies must reflect real family values, including fully embracing the shared responsibility of ensuring that older Americans can age with dignity, fairness, and respect. At the same time, the decisions that elders and their families will—and, often, must—make in order to guarantee the dignity and safety of loved ones are as much values-based and emotionally laden choices as they are economic or financial necessities. Local communities and communities of faith throughout the country are meeting the challenges facing an aging population and those who care for them in both traditional and innovative ways.
Caring for those who cared for us can be both an emotionally and economically demanding experience, yet it is one that millions of Americans take on without hesitation. There were an estimated 46.2 million people in the United States over age 65 in 2014. Furthermore, 39.7 million people—16 percent of Americans over the age of 15—provide daily, unpaid care for at least one elder. The paid elder care workforce is growing as well: In 2014, 799,080 people worked as home health aides, an occupation that is growing much faster than other jobs and that is predicted to increase by 48 percent by 2022.
The Center for American Progress’ Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative believes that economic policies must address the needs of each group involved in the care of the aging—elders, their families and family caregivers, and the paid elder care workforce—as well as live up to the values that strengthen families. Recognizing and respecting the dignity of all work, embracing the responsibility to family, and caring for the most vulnerable citizens are values that must inform the United States’ approach to elder care. To do this, it is necessary to define, frame, and understand the current elder care landscape, as well as its intersections with economic policies that reflect real family values.
Read the full piece at the Center for American Progress.