In the U.S., getting old is hard work. On top of your usual considerations, like health care costs, prescription drug prices and new weather norms that are so extreme they kill people, there are also many new logistical challenges.
Car-centered city planning means elderly folks often lose mobility prematurely, becoming stuck in their homes. Years of budget cuts have whittled social programs for seniors to the bone, leaving vulnerable members of our society isolated and without necessary services, like meal delivery and in-home care. And with the sandwich generations — primarily Millennials and Gen X — caring for both young children and older adults, the squeeze is feeling real tight.
And the worst part about it all? It doesn’t have to be this way.
When revenue gets lean, state and federal lawmakers have long looked at budgetary line-items that specifically benefit senior citizens as places to trim the fat. They can always find money to fund wars and militarized police forces, but Meals on Wheels? Those old people can open their own cans of creamed corn! But here’s the thing: The subtle chipping away of existing services isn’t even really the crux of the problem.
The real issue is the lack of innovative solutions that get ahead of our collective problems.
We know the senior citizen population is exploding, which will mean changes to both the workplace and the economy overall. We also know that more than half of Americans can’t afford to fully retire and that the cost of assisted living is well out of reach. So if the population is getting older but they can’t afford to pay their own way in their retirement years, who’s going to foot that bill?
Well, it seems no one is going to, and as a result, every year, more and more seniors are ending up unhoused. It’s disgraceful, it’s shameful and it’s not a surprise, but it doesn’t mean we are without solutions.
We need ample, accessible, affordable, subsidized elder care facilities and in-home care options. Having enough social programming, including ride-shares, errand assistance and help with medical billing, would make an astronomical difference in the lives of seniors in our communities. And if these positions are represented by our local labor unions, they would also provide well-paying, fulfilling careers to folks who might be looking to improve their own station.
America is a culture that pays lip service to seniors — saying in one instance that we respect them, while failing to treat them with even the bare minimum of respect when it comes to public policy.
Read more of the Jan. 3–9, 2024 issue.