Marvin Schachter Marvin Schachter

Bridging a generational divide

Erase lines that divide us on health, education, housing, economic security and care for seniors and the disabled

By Marvin Schachter 04/30/2009

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The Pasadena Conference on Aging — taking place today, April 30 — is expected to be the largest in its eight-year history. Some 1,500 participants are expected at the First Church of the Nazarene on Sierra Madre Boulevard to discuss issues of concern to the older members of our community.
Why the greater interest? I think it is because of the extraordinary period we live in. On the one hand, we are all in the same economic boat. When unemployment moves higher than 10 percent, with further job shocks in the offing and long-term joblessness on the rise, it is time to recognize we are not in a comforting “downturn” but in a depression that will affect every phase of our lives. For some of us, who, believe it or not, were actually alive in the 1930s — the years of the Great Depression — there are too many familiar danger signs, and people are looking for information and guidance.
There is another significant and understandable reason for more interest in this year’s conference: For the first time, the event is subtitled “An Information Faire for the 50+.” Obviously, folks in their 50s would never call themselves “aging,” but the fact is that the 40 million or so people over 65 today will explode to about 90 million in the next 40 years. Certainly baby boomers, now moving into their 60s, are beginning to pay attention to some of the same issues and challenges that are important to their older relatives and friends.
A look at the workshops scheduled for today’s conference finds a sampling of topics of interest across generational lines, including quality-of-life sessions on family history, communicating with grandchildren, nutrition and fitness, dating after 50 and care-giving. Panels on renters’ rights, re-entering the workforce, finances and foreclosures relate to facets of the broader economic crisis.
The concept of a community of interests across generational dividing lines is an important one. During the Bush years, there was an effort to propagate the concept of a war between generations. Social Security and Medicare were derided as programs that stole from the young for the benefit of the old. Given what has happened on Wall Street, every person who has a Social Security card should be grateful that seniors fought President Bush’s planned “stock-marketization” of Social Security to a stand-still.
As I said, we live in difficult economic times, but we also have in national office an activist administration that has focused on two domestic policy issues for prime attention: 1) health care reform and 2) economic stimulus and recovery. 
Health has of course been a central and continuing concern for seniors and their organizations for well over 70 years. After the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, it took 30 years of agitation and political struggle to achieve Medicare. Life for the elderly, given the normal aches, pains and other tolls of aging, is hardly conceivable today without Medicare. 
Over the years, Medicare has changed and coverage has increased. The addition nationally of what we call “Medi-Cal” in California (a program that provides a greater level of care for very low income seniors and the disabled) and prescription drug benefits were important and valuable improvements.
It is noteworthy that although seniors have a functioning national health program, they have been in the forefront of the effort for medical care reform and to create a national program that would be: “universal, continuous, affordable, timely, equitable and sustainable,” according to the criteria of the National Academy of Sciences.
During these past two years, the 40-million-member AARP has built a national coalition of labor, business and community groups, with the slogan “divided, we fail ...” designed to put health care reform on the must-do agenda of the new administration and Congress.
As Congress debates the issues, seniors are urging that the final program will also address what the National Council on Aging calls “the greatest unmet care and need and coverage gap for America’s seniors — long-term services and supports ... the cost of which impoverishes thousands of seniors and their families every year.”
The collapse of the stock market, the loss of equity in housing, the decline in savings and CD interest rates, the growth of unemployment, especially among older workers — all of these as a result of the economic situation — have created a sense of panic among the elderly. While Medi-Cal for very low income seniors and the wealth of the very rich will cover the costs of long-term care at home or in an assisted living facility, the vast majority of seniors can no longer afford the $5,000 to $7,000 monthly costs of long-term care. 
Perhaps the great lesson all of us should draw from this extraordinary time, one President Obama has described as a “defining period,” is that we must abolish the dividing lines between us on issues of health, education, housing, security and care for seniors and the disabled. All are priorities, and all must be addressed. And for that to happen, we must learn to support each other. 

Marvin Schachter, a former publisher of this newspaper, is chair of the Pasadena Senior Advocacy Council and a member of the executive council of AARP California.


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