Aging With Race
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because everybody grows older.
By Carly Stern
By 2060, a quarter of America’s population will be 65 years or older. For many, family and partners — whether siblings, children or spouses — form a critical health and financial support system. Research shows that Black women, in particular, face a widening “kin gap.” They have the highest likelihood of ending up “kinless” — without a living partner, children or parents — relative to other demographic groups in the U.S., which could have sweeping economic, health, policy and social outcomes.
Across America, thousands of churches are shuttering each year as the number of adults identifying with Christianity drops. But these church closures are set to hit African American elders the hardest — and are prompting the community to adapt their congregations to keep them alive. Black Americans identify most with Christianity among all communities, and those born between 1928 and 1945 attend historic Black churches that are increasingly closing. But a parallel rise in multiracial congregations is making many previously Black churches open their doors to other communities in a bid to stay open for African American elders who might otherwise need to hunt for new churches late in life.
Josephine Kalipeni is working to boost chatter about a proposal targeted at the “sandwich generation” — Universal Family Care. This kind of state or federally funded care insurance fund would cover care needs across a person’s life — with early child care and education, paid family and medical leave, and long-term support services — wrapped up into one comprehensive system. The idea is generating political talk during a moment when Americans are considering policies previously characterized as radical or socialist, like Universal Basic Income and Medicare for All — and just in time as America’s aging population continues to swell.
All caregivers could use more support for what is a fundamental but often invisible role. But the financial strain on African American caregivers is particularly acute compared to their White counterparts. Generally, African American caregivers have lower household incomes than White caregivers but spend similar amounts of money on caretaking, according to research from AARP. They are about four times as likely as White caregivers to spend more than a third of their income on care costs — effectively facing a greater financial “care burden.”
Tubman, who was born into slavery, is famous for guiding hundreds of slaves to safer ground through the Underground Railroad in the 1800s after her own escape from bondage. But many of her numerous post-Civil War accomplishments to fight for the poor and vulnerable remain obscured. Beyond being a suffragist and co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), Tubman opened what some experts say was the first nursing home for Black aging people. And in 1911, Harriet Tubman moved into the home she didn’t know she’d herself need: The Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Negroes.
John Grant and his sister Ruby Allen had managed the care of their elderly parents, John Grant Sr. and Ruby Grant, for 10 years. The couple, married for 62 years, had lived in their Potecasi, North Carolina, home for 55 years. John’s sister lived within an hour’s drive from her parents, and had been the first point of contact for all their needs. John’s father had been wheelchair-bound from the effects of spinal stenosis. Ruby had been his rock since the day they said “I do.” But the morning of Friday, Dec. 14, a house fire would take her, and a good Samaritan would save him. Even though she’d been out of harm’s way, Ruby went back in — likely to retrieve something she held dear.