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Lack of protection and benefits, family’s continuing needs, cited as factors preventing retirement
LOS ANGELES – A policy report authored by three Calfiornia-based researchers found that most Filipino elderly caregivers work past retirement age due to lack of employment protection and benefits, their inability to save up for retirement, and the continuing need to provide financial assistance to their families.
“Can I Ever Retire? Making a Case for the ‘Retireable Wage’ of Elderly Caregivers in Los Angeles” was written by USC Sociology Department Chairperson Rhacel Parreñas UC San Francisco Ph.D. Candidate Jennifer Nazareno, and USC Ph.D. Candidate Yu Kang Fan. The policy report was prepared with the cooperation of the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE).
The report was based on a 100-person survey of Filipino elderly caregivers in LA, and was supplemented by data from in-depth interviews and focus group discussions.
According to Parreñas, the researchers focused on Filipino elderly caregivers because there is little information available on this segment of the work force, and that they wanted to “contribute to our knowledge” on this group.
Based on data from the US Department of Health and Human Serivces, there are about 39.6 million people in the US aged 65 years and older. The rapid increase of the aging population is expected to push that number up to 72.1 million by 2030. Because many Filipinos are engaged in the home care industry, the researchers believed that it is important to look into the socio-demographic patterns, migration histories, labor conditions, workplace characteristics, and the needs and social issues of migrant Filipino elderly caregivers.
The report found that of the 100 Filipino elderly caregivers surveyed, majority are married and hold 4-year college degrees. The average age of the survey sample was 57.5 years old, significantly higher than the median age of Americans in the labor force (42 years old). The oldest caregiver surveyed was a 78-year old woman who cared for a 66 year old patient. The majority of participants claimed that job security and lack of retirement funding was among their biggest concerns. When asked when they planned to stop working, most responded between the ages of 65-75. However, most participants reported that they had no concrete retirement plans, do not have enough savings, and intend to work past retirement age.
US Census data from year 2000 until 2010 suggested that new immigrants — from across all nationalities — tend to fall under the 18-34 age bracket. However, the researchers found that the average age of migration among respondents fell into a much older bracket, 41-50 years old. Older age Filipino migrants reportedly prefer jobs in elderly caregiving because a) it is convenient; b) they are too old to pursue a career in the US; and/or c) they struggle to get jobs that recognize their previous work experience in the Philippines.
This advanced migration age, Parreñas noted, negatively affected the respondent’s ability to secure good jobs in the labor market. They are “not as attractive” to potential employers because of their advanced age, and unrecognized work experience. As a result, they end up working as home-based caregivers.
While many of the respondents indicated that they are legally documented immigrants (60 percent), a great number reported to be undocumented immigrants (40 percent).
Another alarming pattern that was discovered was the deplorably low wages the elderly caregivers receive. On average, those in private homes reportedly made $6.59 per hour; while those in a board and car made about $5.87 per hour. With many caregivers being underpaid, only 28 percent receive payment with a W-2 form. In other words, only 28 percent of respondents have employers who contribute to their Social Security, unemployment, and Medicare benefits. This absence of employer contributions to Social Security is a factor that is a factor that supposedly deters elderly caregivers from retiring.
Through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with respondents, the researchers found out that substantial wage differences, perceived autonomy, and perceived ease of workload ratio (one caregiver to one patient, as opposed to one-to-two or more) played key roles in their preference for home-based care work. The researchers also believe that the Filipino elderly caregivers gravitated towards this industry because they are ‘hidden.’
“It is well documented that working behind closed doors and out of the public eye make them more susceptible to various abuses and mistreatments. Yet we found that the majority of these Filipino elderly care workers still preferred tow rom in private homes because they felt ‘less embarrassed,’” the researchers said in the report.
They went on to point out that the majority of the Filipino elderly care workers are highly educated and experience a decline in social status when they work in the home-based care industry. The nature of their jobs supposedly “make them want to hide their low-status job from their peers.”
Low wages, when coupled with high cost-of-living expenses and regular remittances to family members and relatives in the Philippines, play a key factor in the respondents’ inability to save up for retirement. The biggest monthly expense for caregivers is their rent, which averages at $639 per month. Meanwhile, 71 percent of the respondents said that they still send money to the Philippines. Of that, about 38 percent said that they send an average of about $200-499 per month.
According to Parreñas, the caregivers felt that they still need to send money back to the Philippines because many of their relatives largely depend on the remittances for their subsistence. Simply put, the caregivers can’t retire because their families back home still need their help.
While the elderly caregivers might have educated their children, these children were not always in a position to care for their own children, Parreñas pointed out. Some of the elderly caregivers who participated in the study reported that they are still sending their grandchildren to school.
Housing was found to be a “hidden need,” especially for live-in caregivers. The researchers said that housing provides security and personal space for the caregivers during their days off from work. it also provides shelter in case of sudden termination from employment. Parreñas empathized that there is a need for affordable housing projects that can support the elderly caregivers.
She also said that elderly caregiving is an informal job that should be formalized.
“In its formalization, we shouldn’t just be fighting for overtime pay and minimum wage. We should also be fighting for retirement benefits. If we don’t fight for retirement benefits, just because the wage is so low [the caregivers] are going to be able to save enough to retire,” Parreñas said. Companionship services should also be considered as real work, the researchers proposed.
She added that elderly caregiving is a “microcosm of a larger systemic problem” in America — an increasing number of low wage workers not being secure in their positions.
PWC Executive Director Aquilina Soriano Versoza echoed Parreñas’ sentiments. Versoza said that it is an issue of equality.
“We’re really concerned with both the working conditions of caregivers, and the ability and affordability for people to retire. And that right has to be for everyone,” Versoza said.
Versoza decried the lack of recognition for people working in domestic caregiving, and the lack of benefits.
“We need to think about this as a whole country, as a society, about how everyone can afford quality affordable care, [while giving the caregivers] the dignity and options to retire and age with dignity,” Versoza said.
(LA Midweek July 9-11, 2014 Sec A pg.1)