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If It's Broke, Fix It

Othello Banaci

Many of us who care for an aging parent rely on the help of a paid caregiver, someone to fill in when you're not available or just need a few hours off. Those professional home care aides take on demanding, intimate work that allows elderly people to stay at home rather than move into a nursing home, and yet on average, they make just $11 an hour. 

Ai-Jen Poo is an activist and lobbyist who has sought better pay for caregivers and greater access to in-home care for people who need it. She visited the White House recently to advocate for the Build Back Better Act, the Biden Administration's signature infrastructure package that included provisions for caregivers.

"If we think about the definition of infrastructure, it is that which makes everything in the economy and society function," Ai-Jen says. "And we traditionally think about things like roads and bridges and tunnels. But actually, even before you can get to the bridge and the tunnel, you need care for your family members and the people that you love."

The U.S. provides little in the way of long-term elderly care, Ai-Jen points out. "We have this myth that we need to bust which is that Medicare covers long term care. It really just doesn't."

The pandemic emphasized the shortcoming of America's elder care, particularly in the severe death toll and staffing shortages at nursing homes. "There just isn't enough infrastructure and support in place to allow for the millions of us who want to age at home and in the community to be able to do so," Ai-Jen says.

On this episode of Twenty-Four Seven: A Podcast About Caregiving, Ai-Jen Poo breaks down the need for better caregiver policies and the inspiration she took from her grandparents.