National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Ai-Jen Poo: ‘There’s a lot of cultural resistance to the notion that we’re aging’
This year at Netroots Nation, Raw Story was asking 5 Questions of various panel speakers, exhibitors and attendees about issues you didn’t hear addressed on the main stage.
As the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-Jen Poo is used to advocating for legal, political and social recognition of the women and men who work some of the most undervalued jobs in our society, from taking care of other people’s children to taking care of other people’s parents. Lately, she and the NDWA partnered with Caring Across Generations to help change how we take care of our countries’ older citizens and the broken system to which they are too often subjected.
Raw Story: There has been a lot of discussion here about the second shift work that women do, whether it’s taking care of children or, as we get older, taking care of our parents and grandparents. How does this end up disproportionately impacting women, women of color and low-wage workers?
Poo: Women are more than half of the paid workforce, and they’re doing still more than three-quarters of all the care-giving work for households. So there’s just a tremendous amount of pressure on women and, of course, low-income women, women of color have less resources and supports in order to actually meet those responsibilities. And now with the age-wave, with so many people living longer and turning 65, it’s just going to be a situation where you’ll have a whole bunch of — 10 million, actually — people who are going to be dealing with both child care and elder care. So you’re talking about, already, a triple shift of work, and then child care, and then elder care. And then if you want to do anything about it, like organize, that’s a fourth shift! So, it’s a pretty daunting situation that I don’t really think we can deal with as individual households. We have to get together and come up with collective solutions.
Raw Story: Why do you think so many people our age don’t understand the way the system is designed for when we get older, that Medicare only kicks in when you’ve exhausted all other financial resources, that it puts you in situations you don’t necessarily want to be in, housing-wise and care-wise. What do you think the disconnect is between people seeing what their parents and grandparents might have already gone through and what they should be planning for in their own lives?
Poo: I think that we need to make a big culture shift. We have a culture of not actually talking about these needs that we have as families, not facing the reality of aging. There’s a lot of cultural resistance to the notion that we’re aging instead of really embracing it and seeing the positive of intergenerational relationships and all the good that can come with getting older. We just have to make a real culture shift around that.
Raw Story: What sorts of policies are you advocating for? What sorts of conversations are you asking people to start having to start to begin that shift?
Poo: I think we need to create more jobs in home care and long-term care to support people to age in-place in their homes and communities. But those jobs have to be really good jobs. And we have to make care more affordable. So creating a whole new social program that actually supports that, that taps into the resourcefulness of families and communities while also creating an infrastructure to support them.
Raw Story: Why do you think a lot of these home health care jobs are so poorly paid, as many domestic help jobs are?
Poo: Because it’s care-giving work that’s historically been associated with women, and it’s been expected that women will do it, and it’s never been appreciated, accounted for, valued properly. In fact, as paid work, it’s been associated with women of color, and so there’s just a whole way in which it’s been devalued by who’s doing the work and intentionally excluded from labor protections. So we have this whole culture that’s built around exclusion of recognition of the work that makes all other work possible. It’s kind of crazy.
Raw Story: When you look at how many politicians are talking about cutting Social Security and cutting Medicare benefits in order to supposedly make a pared-down system last longer, isn’t that completely incompatible with elderly people having the kind of care that they want, which is in-home care as long as possible, medical assistance, rather than being warehoused? I guess that could be cheaper, but it’s not how people want to end their lives.
Poo: People want to stay in their homes and communities, and it’s cheaper for them to do that. It’s more efficient than the system and saves a lot of costs. We just have to reorganize in such a way that moves away from institutionalization towards really drawing on each other in our homes and communities.
[Image courtesy of the National Domestic Workers Alliance]