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Ai-jen Poo

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Aging Candidates, Caring Voters

Posted: 10/18/2012 12:38 pm

When Governor Mitt Romney turned 65 this year, he officially joined the ranks of America's seniors. At 51, President Barack Obama might be a bit younger, but he is not too far behind the mark. While the presidential campaign has proven to be perpetually partisan, which voters saw again in this week's debate, the fact is that Governor Romney and President Obama share some important attributes: they both claim they want to create jobs and provide quality health care for America's current and soon-to-be-seniors. And, while neither candidate will really need to worry about aging independently and with dignity, considering their means and stature, they should both be concerned with the fact that millions of Americans are not as lucky.

Both candidates say their primary goal is job creation. The fact is that, with more than 79 million Americans turning 65 in the next decade, our nation will need at least 1.6 million new home health care workers just to keep up. It seems like common sense: the need for jobs plus the need for care should make a plan for care sector reform a bipartisan winner. Even if that's asking too much, a plan to help American seniors age with dignity should at least be on the political radar.

And while Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are very lucky to be well off, millions of seniors rely on Medicare and Social Security to cover their aging needs, including funding home health attendants. Those home workers aren't millionaires either -- they earn on average less than $10 an hour and don't get paid sick days or basic worker rights, meaning that these vitally important jobs are unfortunately very low-road, dead end jobs. Today's model of care is unsustainable: a rapidly expanding senior population relying on a stretched-thin group of home health aides, who are then subject to low pay and vulnerable to higher workplace injury rates without access to health benefits for themselves. It's a vicious cycle, but it doesn't have to be that way. We can prioritize good, quality care for our parents and grandparents and make sure the workers who care for them have good quality jobs. This strategy is good for seniors, good for workers and good for our economy. Now will Democrats and Republicans be good enough to agree on it?

The election is almost over. Hopefully, whatever the outcome, politicians on both sides will stop the name-calling, return to governing and once again realize the constructive need to reach across the aisle. Just like Republicans and Democrats once joined together to support comprehensive immigration reform, both parties can change the law so that home health workers who currently don't have access to immigration can be included in work visa programs. And just like most Republicans and Democrats agree that Medicare needs to be saved and strengthened, both parties can work to make sure that decent compensation for home health aides is included in Medicare going forward.

Americans don't want bitter partisanship. To be honest, I don't even think the candidates want it either. What Americans do want is for seniors to be able to age gracefully and with dignity in their own homes, and that requires skilled and well-paid home health workers, supporting seniors and strengthening our economy. The second presidential debate was very contentions, but building the care economy for seniors is something we can all agree on. And a good way for candidates to show they care.

 

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