Having crossed paths with Ai-Jen Poo at various civic initiatives over the years, to say that I admire her work would be an understatement. Besides being an amazingly warm human being, she has an extensive record as an advocate for immigrant and domestic workers, the elderly, and women’s rights. Along the way, she has garnered world-class accolades such as the McArthur Foundation Genius Award recipient, and being named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. So of course, when I heard about her new book, The Age of Dignity, I couldn’t wait to read it.
The Age of Dignity examines the complex workforce, generation, and population shifts happening concurrently in modern-day America. Through poignant true stories she’s collected from the field (some of which had me in tears), Poo is able to illustrate the interdependent relationship between caregivers, the people at their charge, their families, and a system seemingly set up to fail them all.
The book is filled with eye-opening statistics. On the one hand, for example, the number of people with chronic conditions or disabilities is exploding, and the over-85 crowd is likely to more than double in the next 20 years. On the other hand, two-thirds of workers in the industry are foreign born, and about half are undocumented.
Put two and two together, and it becomes evident that our country’s dependence on migrant/immigrant caregivers may reach unprecedented rates in the coming years. How ironic it is that, as Poo points out, our policies continue to deny these workers the safety net that can protect them and their families from separation due to immigration status.
But I digress… Besides, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The book goes into detail about the industry dynamics, the policies, and the larger issues surrounding caregiving. Through it all, Poo refuses to fall into the doom and gloom of what would happen if the needs of the market, or those of the caregivers, are not met. Instead, she presents a wealth of ideas combining technology, regulations, and programs that prompt collaboration among all stakeholders: Her vision for the future of caring.
As members of “The Sandwich Generation,” many of us are already dealing with aging parents while raising our own children. But even for those who haven’t reached that point just yet, this inspiring book offers plenty of food for thought about the road ahead. The “Elder Boom” is coming, and it would do us well to heed Poo’s call to recognize and value caregiving as the fundamental resource that it is, and to build comprehensive support systems around it. This is a call for us to care about caring, and it’s an absolute must read.