Hawaii “has a unique and critical role to play” in achieving a comprehensive solution to America’s “elder boom,” according to Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations Campaign.
The social activist, named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2012, spoke on campus Feb. 15 at a public policy forum presented by Chaminade University’s Hogan Entrepreneurs Program.
Every eight seconds, someone living in the United States turns 65, Poo pointed out. And this phenomenon is particularly striking in the rapidly graying Aloha State, where residents enjoy the longest lifespans in America.
Poo emphasized that this demographic trend is a blessing because seniors have more time to spend with their friends and loved ones. But the massive number of retiring Baby Boomers also poses a significant challenge, she cautioned, because America’s eldercare infrastructure is woefully inadequate.
Eldercare professionals typically earn just $13,000 annually, Poo said, thus forcing many to seek other employment. And because about 75 percent of American workers make less than $50,000 per year, they often struggle with the steep cost of caring for aging relatives.
Representing a bold step forward, according to Poo, are the “Kupuna Care” bills (SB534 and HB607) under consideration by the Hawaii State Legislature. These measures would provide up to $70 a day for the respite that family caregivers need to stay fully active in the workforce while caring for their kupuna at home.
If passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor, the Kupuna Care Program could help pay for homemaking services, adult day care, transportation to doctor appointments, etc. This would allow seniors to continue “aging in place” at home, while postponing or avoiding the transition to far more expensive institutional settings.
Caring for one’s elders is “part of the DNA of this state and this culture,” Poo concluded. And that means Hawaii could serve as an outstanding model for the rest of the nation.
Additional information on the Kupuna Care Program is available at care4kupuna.com.