The Color of Care in Aging America

Matt Perry, Special to the Informer from New American Media | 8/7/2013, 3 p.m.
Increasingly, caregivers of aging white Americans come from African-American, Caribbean, African, and Hispanic backgrounds. (Courtesy photo)

“They’re already seeing results, and the home health aides are asking for more training,” she added.

PHI claims the United States will need another 1 million paid caregivers by 2020, and says personal care and home health aides are growing faster than any other profession. In fact, by the end of this decade the group predicts caregivers will be the largest occupational force in the country – topping both K-12 teachers and law enforcement personnel.

Since caregiving often requires no formal education – especially in the underground economy – these jobs are expected to go increasingly to immigrants – from Latin America, the Philippines, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Cultural Competence

Diwan said the programs at San Jose State University focus on “cultural competence” in diverse populations – respecting the unique culture and needs of patients.

For families taking care of older adults themselves, cultural attitudes run deep. Diwan observed that many immigrants from traditional cultures see caring for their aging parents and grandparents as an important responsibility.

Yet this admirable reverence can have also have negative consequences, she said. “Often times [family] caregivers will burn themselves out because they feel like they have to do everything.”

In addition, ethnic adults are also aging, with Latinos on the fastest-rising curve. Stanford’s Periyakoil said America’s aging “silver tsunami” – over 8,000 citizens turn 65 each day – now has a new name. “People are actually talking about the silver-brown tsunami,” she commented.

With an aging ethnic population and more immigrant caregivers, Americans should prepare for a colorful future: Filipinos providing care for older Latinos, African-Americans helping aging Russians, and Asian caregivers assisting Afghani elders.

Del Valle said all of these complex issues of race need to be explored in the open. “I consider the very act of asking this question to raise awareness,” she said.

John Booker of the National Association for Direct Care Workers of Color agreed, “I would hope that it would disappear with the younger generations.

This article is adapted from a story Matt Perry wrote as part of the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellows program, a collaboration of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.