Grandparents and Family Carework

The White House observed Grandparents’ Day today with a gathering of advocates and policy analysts focused on the varied roles seniors play in families and communities. Barack Obama was interested in making a splash – he is, after all, currently a part of a multi-generational household, relying on his mother-in-law to help look after his daughters. His own grandparents were a big part of his youth. He knows whereof he speaks.

Topics addressed included keeping our elders safe and healthy in all their pursuits. Many are employed, or want to be employed, for a range of reasons. Like most other workers, grandparents frequently have to balance their paid work with caring for family. The recession has pushed more families to turn to grandparents while adult children look for work, or as an alternative to paid child care now that households have to get by on less income. As a result, grandparents are now at the front lines of keeping the household operating, just at a time when they were looking to retire, cut their expenses, or start taking it easy. Administration officials put seniors into the equation when promoting flexible workplaces, paid and expanded family medical leave, and paid sick days. Many grandparents find themselves without insurance, too young for medicare but no longer working and eligible for employer-sponsored health plan. The recently passed health reform legislation would fill that gap, they claim.

US Asst. Secretary for Aging at the HHS, Kathy Greenlee, complained bitterly of the characterization of the aging boomers as a “silver tsunami” that would strain our resources, consume disproportionate health services, and otherwise put a drag on economic health and vitality. In her eyes, they are a vast asset, having worked, raised children, cared for other family members, and generously given of themselves in a wide array of community and volunteer capacities. Considering the amount of time, money, and talent they have given to all of us, she suggests it is entirely equitable to implement public policies which support their physical and mental health, preserve their economic security, and extend their self-sufficiency as long as possible.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington