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Caring for Workers Who Care for Our Loved Ones

11:21 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

At a June 2012 New York Care Congress at Pace University, care workers came together with community members to discuss how to ‘create quality, dignified care for all.’ (Photo from ALIGN NY)

Originally published at In These Times.

For many seniors, growing older means facing new kinds of stress—such as fragile health, a tight budget on a fixed income, or the travails of living alone.

And for the people who care for the aging, the stress can be just as severe. When her client is going through a rough time, one domestic worker says she lives through every minute of it, too: “Sometimes we stay there for five days…and we don’t know what’s outside…You cannot leave the job.”

Stories like this one, recorded as part of a survey of New York’s care workers, form the invisible pillar of an evolving industry that is making the private home the center of public health, and in the process, reshaping our relationships of family, work, community and social service. Yet the home care workforce, which is driven largely by poor women of color, mirrors inequities embedded in the low-wage economy. At work, caregivers manage the lives of our loved ones while often facing exploitation and abuse, and after a long day of delivering comfort to vulnerable clients, manystruggle themselves to cope with ingrained poverty their communities.

To open a conversation about the economics and ethics of caregiving, ALIGN (Alliance for a Greater New York) has partered with the national advocacy campaign Caring Across Generations, along with various community and labor groups, to study New York City’s more than 150,000 home care workers. The surveys and investigations published by ALIGN reveal structural problems in the industry and identify potential for reforms that work for those who give and those who receive care.

In New York, the home care industry is booming as more seniors opt to live at home rather than in institutions. Thousands across the city earn their living by taking care of seniors and people with disabilities. Overall, according to the study, the sector “will be the single biggest driver of employment in the city in the coming years.”

On a typical day in New York, these workers, mostly women of color and immigrants, act as both therapists and companions, managing medications, bathing and feeding, and helping seniors feel dignified even on the days they can’t get out of bed. On top of this, the workers have to negotiate with stressed families about hours and pay–and typically take home low wages that keep them and their families mired in poverty. Read the rest of this entry →

Pension Panic Fueled by Anti-Worker Politics?

8:50 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Pew Center on the States

Originally posted at In These Times

It’s a common refrain in local papers: State faces pension funding crisis! Retiree benefits out of control! Public pensions bog down taxpayers! Pension costs seem to loom over so many state and local budget battles like a sinister sword of Damocles, a dark reminder of Big Government’s tyrannical profligacy.

Should we panic? Well, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States, 61 cities face a collective fiscal retirement burden of more than $210 billion, in part because consistent underfunding of benefits leaves yawning gaps in long-term cost projections. The report surveyed all U.S. cities with populations over 500,000, along with the most populous city in each state. Some cities are doing better than others in maintaining funds, but gaps persist, according to Pew’s estimates for fiscal years 2007-2010, especially in municipalities where local governments have lacked the “fiscal discipline” to keep up pension fund contributions—a situation exacerbated by the Great Recession.

But different political actors have different motives for expressing alarm over pension gaps. In some cases, dubiously calculated figures have inflated public concern.

Sometimes, politicians frame cost-cutting proposals as if “generous” benefits themselves are the problem, as opposed to officials failing to uphold the commitments they’ve made to civil servants. Read the rest of this entry →

As Helping Hands for Elders, Home Care Workers Push for Respect

5:30 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo: SEIU.org

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Somewhere in your community today, an elder person is wondering when she’ll be able to take her medicine today, or have a chance to see the sun. And her mind will be put at ease once her aide arrives to help her get dressed, eat breakfast or take a walk in the park. For millions of aging households, a home care worker is the only person who provides the day-to-day assistance and emotional interaction they need to function. Yet, typically, that worker is neglected herself–by the government.

Workers caring for our greying population are intimately woven into our family lives, but are alienated from essential labor protections–though that could change soon. As we’ve reported previously, a longstanding loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act excludes home care or “companionship” workers from minimum wage and time-and-a-half overtime regulations. Nationwide, about 2.5 million home care and personal assistance aides–projected to grow to about 3.8 million by 2020–work around the clock to help their clients handle the basics of life, while often themselves scraping by on poverty wages.

Back in the early 1970s, Rep. Shirley Chisholm called attention to the plight of home-based workers who had been shut out of regular labor standards. A generation later, workers’ rights advocates are pushing the Labor Department to follow through on a proposed rule change to extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to currently excluded home care workers–who are disproportionately female and of color. Read the rest of this entry →