I’d written earlier about my family’s recent ordeal in dealing with my dad’s health.
At 84, he was diagnosed with oral cancer, and a few weeks after surgery, and during chemo, a kind of delirium set in that has now abated, but only to a degree. For a while there, my mother had to be with him 24/7, and now we have a nurse who comes in several days a week (at our own expense, which we figured might range from several thousand dollars a year all the way up to $70,000 if we needed her every day all day long).
The entire situation, trying to figure out what the insurance would and wouldn’t cover, and having to have someone by his side all the time, got me wondering about what I’d do at his age with no spouse, no kids, and no retirement plan other than my SEP-IRA which couldn’t afford to buy me a nurse for long (dad has generous health insurance and overall retirement benefits from his former corporate life a generation ago, and has a decent retirement account himself).
Michelle Singletary tackles this issue, of baby boomer retirement, in the Washington Post, where she discusses a new AARP report detailing how bad the coming problem might be. The report hit on a point that I’d made a few weeks ago to a friend, that circumstances have changed entirely since our parents, and grandparents, retired ten and twenty years ago – and since Social Security and Medicaid were established: Women now work. From Singletary’s column:
“The future looks very unlike the past,” said Lynn Feinberg, AARP senior policy adviser and one of the report’s authors. “We have more women in the workforce who are juggling caregiving and work. There are a greater number of people living at a distance. There is a huge number of people who don’t have any living children. We have to look at public as well as private community solutions to long-term care.”
In the old days, women could only get certain educations, could only get certain jobs, and more generally it was frowned up for moms to work more than part-time (my mom was a substitute teacher). Now, thankfully, women have the same (or at least almost the same, salaries are still a problem) career options that men have. But the current legislation is based on the dated (and sexist) assumption that if you get sick and old you can rely on your family, and I suspect a hidden bias in that assumption is the notion that “there’s always the wife who will be around to take care of the husband or his/her parents.” Now, with two-career families a necessity for many (most?) families, who can afford to quit their job in order to take care of their parents (the family loses half its income), let alone their spouse (thus losing 100% of the family income)?
And if you’re gay, sick and old, having a spouse and kids wasn’t exactly on the agenda (well, not very much on the agenda) until only recently, so a lot of us are simply on our own all together.
And it’s not just about quitting your job. Whether you’re married or single, how does an infirm mom or dad move in with you if you work all day, if no one is home to watch them, care for them? And I seriously doubt it’s every family that can afford to hire a nurse for $10,000 to $70,000 a year, so what do you do?
To paraphrase Alan Grayson, speaking of the GOP health care reform proposal, the solution is simple: hope that you die quickly.
I really am serious. Every friend who has gone through caring for a sick parent (or sibling or spouse) tells me the same thing: May I die in my sleep, quickly.
The Fox News crowd, of course, thinks the problem is women themselves. If only those crazy pants-wearing ladies would stop trying to act like men, and would instead stay home and birth babies, the world would be a better place. Here’s Republican Erick Erickson, talking about how sad it is that women have abandoned their families:
I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology, when you look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complimentary role….
When you look throughout society, look at other animals, the male of the species tends to be the protector, the dominant one in that regard. We’ve gotten to a point in this country where you have a lot of feminists who think that the male and female roles are completely interchangeable.
That’s like blaming the newly-freed slaves for all the extra work you’ll now have to do on the cotton plantation.
And, even if women weren’t in the workplace, there’s that little stickler about what happens when stay-at-home-mom herself becomes ill? Is Mr. Bring Home the Bacon going to quit his job and care for his wife, while still managing to pay the mortgage? Not so much.
I don’t know what the answer is. The article mentions long-term care insurance. But I’ve been warned that a lot of it is a scam. They can quadruple the price on you at will, and diminish your benefits every year, and then, even if you live to an age where you can use it, you’ll be haggling over what is and isn’t covered.
Both political parties are going to be paying a price for their inaction on this issue in the next ten to twenty years, when a lot of us reach retirement age and look back on Republicans and Democrats who wasted our budget surplus on unnecessary tax cuts and wars, and then lectured us about how they simply had to cut benefits to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in order to pay for all that “wasteful government spending” that they were the ones wasting in the first place.