Why an infrastructure for aging is good for America

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In its definition of “infrastructure,” the Merriam-Webster dictionary on my shelf includes: 1: “the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity,” and, 2: “the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization).”

For those of us in the field of aging, we know that for much too long we have underinvested in “the resources required” and “the underlying foundation” for empowered aging, a situation that will only worsen as strained government budgets become further exacerbated by an aging society. The American Jobs Plan includes comprehensive policy solutions that will bolster our investment in America’s infrastructure for our aging society and better prepare us for 2040, when about one in five Americans will be ages 65 or older.

Like our bridges and roads, our infrastructure for aging is crumbling. For the past year, we have witnessed this infrastructure buckle under the weight of the pandemic. Older adults accounted for more than 80 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.

When given the opportunity to sign up for a vaccine appointment online, many elders are left in the dark because they don’t have internet at home or face language or cultural barriers. Undervalued direct care workers, often women of color, are deemed “essential” to be on the frontlines of the pandemic, but not to be fairly paid. Meanwhile, nursing homes, particularly those on the coasts, are faced with the dual crises of managing the pandemic and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Simply put, our infrastructure for aging is neither sound nor strong.

But the American Jobs Plan is arguably the most comprehensive proposal we have seen since the 1965 passage of the Older Americans Act. Its proposals to tackle the digital divide, increase health equity, combat ageism and fight climate change will go far to address the long-standing social and economic needs that older adults face, but that Congress too often ignores.

Based upon our analysis of the 116th Congress, where more than 14,000 bills were introduced, about 360 bills, or fewer than 3 percent, were directly related to aging — the majority of which not only ignored the infrastructure for aging, but almost exclusively focused on healthcare, which while important, flies in the face of the varied needs and opportunities we all have as we age. And while we believe that aging is the ultimate nonpartisan issue, it seems Democrats introduced nearly 75 percent of all aging-related bills. We need bipartisan and varied solutions to modernize infrastructure for aging that allow for all of us to age in place in our communities, including accessible transportation, close-by walking paths, covered caregiving and affordable internet — all of which are essentially envisioned in President Biden’s proposals.

By dismissing the American Jobs Plan, some in Congress are ignoring the real opportunity to strengthen and modernize the infrastructure for aging that will benefit not just their older adult constituents, but also everyone as they age. Investing in broadband will create equitable opportunities for the 42 percent of older adults who don’t have internet at home to connect to digital resources, including access to vaccines and other healthcare resources. Solidifying the care economy will create good-paying jobs for older adults who face ageism in hiring practices, particularly direct care workers who are older than age 55 — a workforce that by 2024 will likely increase by 69 percent — a rate nearly three times that of older workers in general.

Retrofitting buildings and making them more resilient will ensure that senior facilities along the coasts, where from 1970 to 2010 the population of those ages 65 and older ballooned 89 percent, will be better prepared for rising tides, hurricanes and other natural disasters caused by climate change.

Recent polling shows that Americans agree with the American Jobs Plan’s proposals to invest in the infrastructure for aging. A whopping 79 percent of voters support investing in care for older adults. These Americans don’t seem to be bothered by how “infrastructure” is defined — they simply want to have it.

Peter Kaldes is president and CEO of the American Society on Aging.

Tags Aging aging population Gerontology home care workers Infrastructure Joe Biden nursing homes Old age

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