Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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stories in Wisconsin, click:
Elderly face different issues
By Paul H. Kusuda
Many of us know of or have personally experienced the so-called “Sandwich Generation”
situation. It’s the social phenomenon in which a working family with children takes in one or the
other’s parent(s); so, it becomes a three-generation family. This situation was not widely
accepted just a generation or so ago by mainstream America because the nuclear family was
accepted as being composed of parents and their children. Then, as economic conditions
worsened, adult children had to return to their parents’ homes. Urban families experienced
what rural families did a hundred years ago and earlier.
Grandchildren used to support their grandparents as aging reduced ability to remain in the work
situation and income became reduced. A somewhat reverse situation has developed in that
nowadays more often than recognized, grandparents are taking care of their grandchildren. The stressful living is
not easy for grandparents who had already taken care of their own children a generation or so earlier.
The population of persons 65 years of age and older has increased much more than actuaries had predicted for
insurance purposes when Social Security was designed. So, funding anxieties were awakened not only with
reference to Social Security and Supplementary Social Insurance but also Medicare and Medicaid. Of course,
politics will play a substantial role in efforts to meet the fiscal problems.
In addition to the unanticipated increase in the 65 and older group, persons 85 and older (the frail elderly)
increased. Not too long ago, persons who hit the century age mark in the U.S. received special notice in the
media. Not so much now — it’s become almost common. When the Older American Month was established in
1963, less than 50 years ago, there were 17 million people 65 years of age and older; by 2010, there were 40.4
million. That’s almost two-and-a-half times as many.
Many of the aged aren’t really financially ready for retirement, and the future for low-income elderly is not bright.
Few are protected against potential costs of long-term care like assisted living, personal help at home, and
nursing or other services. Women 65 years of age and older are more likely than men to have incomes below the
poverty level, yet they’re the ones more likely to be caregivers. To be noted is that caregivers report having stress
more often than non-caregivers and are more likely to have chronic illness, have a health status rated fair or poor,
and have lesser ability to manage stress well.
More people of color accept the situation as being a matter of course than do mainstream Americans. It’s not
considered unusual by Hispanic, Black, Native American, or Asians. Kinship relationships are very strong.
Children expect to help their parents and grandparents. By the same token, grandparents are expected to help
grandchildren. Relatives also enter the identical picture insofar as expectations and responsibilities are
concerned. Clan-like feelings and obligations continue even though that is not considered the norm for society in
The “We’ll take care of you” outlook has many unanticipated hazards for minority group elderly who become
caregivers for their spouse, child, grandchild, or younger relative. For some, the lack of proficiency in English can
pose many problems. How helpful is participation in teacher conferences? How can complaints be made about
poor service? How can one order food in an eating place? (I remember that when I was six or seven years old,
my mother always used to order “roast beef sandwich” at a drugstore fountain after taking my younger sister and
me shopping. Later in life I figured out that she didn’t have many dinner or lunch items in her vocabulary.)
How can public transportation be used to get from one place to another — reading street signs and maps, being
alert to bus stops are not easy at best — if reading is not at a good enough level? What can be done in
emergency situations? (At a public discussion about law enforcement in a mixed White-Non-White
neighborhood, an Asian woman spoke English with great difficulty in asserting that she was not able to
communicate her concerns about gang-related activities she had observed. The officer ignored her until a young
Asian who spoke her language plus English provided interpretive assistance.) The end result could be social
isolation, perhaps ghettoism. Also, what long-term services are available in local communities to take care of the
elderly minority-group populations? What effective services can be provided within a concept framework that
includes the need to avoid developing a separate-but-equal or segregated set of facilities? At present, services in
such areas as legal and medical are provided through the use of translation. However, what solutions will we
have for long-term group- or institutional care?
As people retire from workplaces, they do not seek to establish new relationships. It’s much easier to continue
with the familiar. People of color are more comfortable to be with their long-time friends, usually of the same
ethnic group. We have ethnic festivals, such as Festa Italia, Hmong New Year, Native American Pow Wows,
Chinese New Year, Juneteenth, Cinco de Mayo, Syttende Mai, October Fest, and St. Patrick’s Day. Ethnic heritage
is celebrated, and others are invited to participate; however, in many cases, mainstream America comprise but a
minority of the celebrants. That points up the inclination of ethnic groups feeling comfortable within their own
groupings. For the elderly, then, will segregated systems be the only solution?
Most social and other agencies may not be as sensitive to special considerations in developing programs to
meet social and other needs of aged minority group members as they grow larger in numbers in urban areas.
Minority group professionals will have to give thought to the issues that will loom larger as the U.S. develops
more and more minority group constituencies.