Props to NPR’s Michel Martin for suggesting a Caregiver’s Day along the lines of Mother’s Day.
But can I just tell you? There’s a new day coming. Just as President John F. Kennedy famously said we are all Berliners, we are all about to become mom.
Why do I say that? I say it because our country is getting older. The number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to more than double by the year 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Those aged 65 will be nearly a quarter of the population by then, compared to 15 percent now.
The gender gap in life expectancy is narrowing, meaning more men are surviving longer. But that doesn’t mean that long-lived couples necessarily can look to each other for care, because more older adults are divorced or living alone for other reasons. And additionally, more people are expected to live out their days with Alzheimer’s disease.
That means someone will have to care for all these people. And that someone is all of us. Perhaps that is the point at which the judgement may cease and the problem solving may actually begin.
I say that because when it comes to children, it is perhaps unkind but common for people to default to the position that if you can’t take care of them by yourself, with little help from anybody else, then you shouldn’t have them. That logic doesn’t work with elderly, frail, and possibly sick parents.
What is the critique then? That your parents didn’t earn enough or save enough or have more kids to take care of them? That might be true, but how about another possibility: That we might finally begin to come to grips with this country’s care giving crisis.
Caregiving is the rare profession that is both essential to everyone, at some point, but also low-paid and poorly trained and still wildly unaffordable to most people who need it. Something has got to give.
Shall we celebrate Caregiver’s Day, then? Not catchy, I know. But get the cards and flowers ready. That’s where we’re headed.