Tag Archives: Senior citizens

Sources and Stories Blaze the Trail for Older Americans Month

There’s a bit of irony in the fact that President Kennedy designated the first Senior Citizens Month in 1963.   Kennedy was a young man then, the nation’s youngest president. If today’s seniors were even around, they were also young, facing an uncertain future and a far distant war.

“Senior Citizen” was still politically correct, not that the world was yet into political correctness in 1963. For the record, it was 1980 when President Jimmy Carter changed the name to “Older Americans Month” and who, incidentally, redefined the image and role of 21st Century older Americans.

Theme of Older Americans Month 2016 is “Blaze a Trail.” The idea is to challenge older Americans to take action, to give back to their communities, to start new careers or hobbies, basically to put a contemporary face on aging.

At the national level planners of OAM have provide a robust digital library of excellent resources created by a host of federal agencies and nonprofits including USDA, NIH, National Institute of Aging, the National Center for Creative Living, the Office of Justice Programs and others.   The basic resource themes include Wellness, Securing Your Finances, Reinvention and Civic Engagement. All of these are readily accessible online – http://oam.acl.gov/resources.html

For the statistically enchanted, the U.S. Census Bureau has also just issued a great guide (CB16-FF.08) https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2016/cb16-ff08.html. It’s actually a great introduction to a world of numbers that tell the story of a rapidly changing demographic shift in this country and the world.

It may not be too late for community groups, churches, nonprofits, book clubs and others to build on the “Trailblazer” theme with an interesting Story Competition also prepared by OAM organizers. The idea is to launch a “trailblazer” story competition to encourage older adults to share their stories – stories of their careers, time in defending the nation, their advocacy work, whether for the arts of early childhood education or services for those who are physically or mentally challenged. Again, there’s an excellent guide for organizers. http://oam.acl.gov/2016/docs/2016-OAM-Story-Comp-Guide.pdf

Employ Older Workers Week – Thoughts of an Older Worker

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.  Theodore Roosevelt.

National Employ Older Workers Week (September 20-26, 2015) will conjure a broad mix of images. On the one hand, there are older workers who just can’t stop working – they love the camaraderie, the feeling of accomplishment, the structure it gives their day. They work at jobs, often self-generated, that they love. They start the day full of ideas and gusto – end the day with a feeling of accomplishment. They find time for dining out, travel, and golf – and spare cash for domestic assistance.

For many older workers, necessity drives their daily work lives. Often they have always lived on one – or no or low – income. The costs of daily living left no stretch to save, far less invest. Financial consultants and investment advisers are as remote as Wall Street and invitation-only fundraisers for millionaire politicos.   Though work may not be an option, these older workers continue to bring experience, skill and commitment to the workplace.

In recent weeks I have had the experience of observing older workers who exemplify the possibilities. My observations were of older women, in this case women religious, who are making significant, creative and forward-looking contributions to the institutions and communities – including global communities — they serve. These women are not working for income, but for self-fulfillment and for the common good. In a word, they offer a holistic sense of older workers. As these older women are providing essential, often innovative, services the offer models of the mental and physical benefits of work. In this era of working to get ahead, working to buy stuff, working to aggregate power, we are in danger of losing sight of “the best prize” – the reward that these women religious experience, the rewards that come from “the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Admittedly these encounters influence my thoughts on National Employ Older Workers Week. I’m thinking now that the tone of the week is largely pragmatic, at times dismissive, at some points indicative of a sort of do-good attitude that misses the point so eloquently made by President Roosevelt.

Clearly, attitudes differ about the employment of older Americans. They are also evolving, if slowly. For some the benefits will show up on a spreadsheet. The Department of Labor comforts us that “helping older adults remain in the workforce provides a boost to our national economy: These workers pay taxes and cover more of their own expenses during their later years.” In fact, a growing number of federal bureaucrats acknowledge that “scientific studies…demonstrate that, contrary to ageist stereotypes, older workers are a good investment, rating high on characteristics such as judgment, commitment to quality, attendance, and punctuality.”

A growing number of opinion and policy makers are taking small steps to a more inclusive position, acknowledging the expanding – and necessary – role of older workers. The Department of Labor acknowledges that older workers “are the group most likely to be serving as family caregivers for a spouse, elderly parent or other relative – and they report that they receive less accommodation than younger employees who are caring for children.”   In fact, AARP asserts that “workplace discrimination against family caregivers is growing more commonplace and more problematic as baby boomers age and combine work in the paid labor force and unpaid work as caregivers for their parents. It may take the form of limited flexibility, denied leave or even a pink slip.”

This at least gets to the point that there is societal benefit to welcoming and supporting older workers. Though it falls short of celebrating Roosevelt’s “best prize” it is a step in the right direction.

Still, I find that my view of Older Worker Week, influenced now by my recent time with the women religious, is through a different prism. For starts, I will reflect on the brilliant words of Marge Piercy who wrote:

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

And I will ponder the wisdom of Maya Angelou who reminded workers that “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Clearly, there are many ways and many reasons for workers, employers and Americans of all ages to celebrate National Employ Older Workers Week. My hope is that our celebration will focus on the many ways in which, even as the women religious,  everyone, regardless of age, enjoys the “best prize that life has to offer — the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”  It seems to me that would focus Employ Older Workers Week in a different light.



Invisible or Invincible: A choice for seniors and for society

African American writer and thinker Ralph Ellison was describing his race-based invisibility. Those who are themselves invisible recognize the truth and relevance of Ellison’s words.   “I am an invisible man.  I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Bella Pollen, writing in Midnight Cactus, takes a different tack on the concept of invisibility, observing that “if America is the land of opportunity a country where perseverance and hard work is rewarded by recognition, then an illegal harbors the opposite ambitions. His great reward is anonymity, invisibility.  Aided and abetted by market forces and the laws of supply and demand, he hones the skill to stand up but make sure he’s never counted.”

Contrasting, but compatible observations that give pause.  Though Ellison and Pollen reflect on the invisibility of people of color and immigrants, those affected by the invisibility brought on by age can learn.  My instinct as a short and congenitally unprepossessing person is to weigh the safety in anonymity against the inherent challenge of invisibility.  I would simply add to the mix the parallel pros and cons of inaudibility.  As I daily confront the challenge of acute invisibility brought on by the passage of time on earth I am determined to focus on the advantages and find humor in the insults.

Nancy Perry Graham, editor in chief of AARP The Magazine, laments that “older people are invisible in society after a certain point…. It’s one of the last remaining acceptable prejudices.”   Obviously, I abhor the pain that this socially acceptable prejudice inflicts on elderly people.  Still, I believe the greater loss lies in the fact that mainstream society starves itself of the time, wisdom and experience of the elderly.

So it is with concern for wisdom lost, wry pleasure and an incurable stubborn streak that I don the cloak of invisibility

Most times I laugh inwardly and wonder within my invisible self just when it was that my own metamorphosis into invisibility transpired.  As a vertically challenged woman, I eased into the final phase.  The total transformation may have come with retirement.   Retirement means instant non-personhood, loss of professional credentials and skills and the invalidation of real world wisdom.  Though volunteers do get self-satisfaction our impact lacks legitimacy.

Then there is the Digital Divide.  Admittedly, I am a lurker.  Though I have legit access to the basic tools, I have neither the time nor the interest in the latest tweet from someone dashing off to the spa or stuck in traffic.   I spend countless hours doing research online, but choose to remain invisible and uninterrupted by yet another beep.   I actually think of meal time as a chance to dine (using my hands) and to chat with fascinating friends who are replete with ideas and stories.  Staring at and thumbing an inanimate device seems far less intellectually stimulating.

Invisibility is a daily fact in the world of commerce, of course.  I don’t shop much, but when I do I am amused by the inevitable intergenerational encounter.  The cheerleader clerk invariably looks furtively around the dressing room to see who is going to signal learn what this old lady thinks of the  garment draped on her invisible frame.  The plus side of shopping is the disinclination to buy, buoyed by the dismissive attitude of the salesperson.

There are trendy magazines with massive advertising campaigns devoted to visible people; serious publishers must assume invisibles are illiterate, irrelevant and/or just not active players in the economy.  The scourge of digital marketing is universally fixated on young consumers.  If virtual marketers don’t want to pitch to invisibles, we should be able to block those fatuous streams of commercialism; we could use the time we have left to learn something meaningful.

For invisibles television is a major source of offense/humor.   As portrayed on TV programs and/or commercials seniors are sadly visible – as frail and bumbling incompetents. (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” comes to mind.)  Sad to say, the “news” media are worse, consistently referring to the elderly in the third person and the mainstream as “we” (as in “we” the sandwich generation will some day have to bear the burden of “them,” our parents.}

The only industry that unabashedly caters to the invisible elderly is the prescription/OTC drug cabal that assumes we are insomniacs who are simply unaware that modern medicine has identified new maladies for which they alone have a pricey panacea.  Their preference for nocturnal commercials rests in part on the fact that advertising rates are cheaper than prime time;  further, should we invisible old folks happen to wake in the night, we are vulnerable to the pitch.

The medical profession as a whole is tangentially aware of our presence – could it be the Medicare payments?   Though they poke and probe the physical form, their interest ends there.  The assumption, one must conclude, is that corporal irregularities are generally linked to age and that invisible oldsters are incapable of accepting the cause or the cure.

Of course invisible elderly usually just suck it up.  Professionals who study such matters attribute this to upbringing – we’re too polite to Question Authority.  I disagree.  For me, it’s not worth the time or the energy to intervene – especially since the service provider, regardless of role, can neither hear nor see the complainant.  Consider the source, and savor yet another inappropriate encounter.

Back in the day, folks didn’t live to the age of invisibility.  They left their accumulated wealth to feed their progeny and the economy.  Those who lasted earned kudos for their wisdom and longevity.  Ancients were actually seen and heard, even honored.   One challenge today is to reposition the elderly as vital human beings who could be a resource with a contribution to make in a world that hungers for wisdom.  Still, we must first be visible.

Victor Hugo wrote: “A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought.  There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.”  Truth to tell, though invisible in the labor force, the media and the economy, many invisible seniors are hard at work thinking.