• Lack of protection, benefits, the need to keep supporting families in PH are factors preventing retirement
• Elderly caregiving should be formalized, report recommends
LOS ANGELES, California – Most Filipino elderly caregivers in the Los Angeles area work past retirement age due to lack of employment protection and benefits, inability to save up for retirement and the continuing need to provide financial help to their families, according to a policy report authored by three California-based researchers.
“Can I Ever Retire? Making a Case for the ‘Retireable Wage’ of Elderly Caregivers in Los Angeles,” written by University of Southern California Sociology Department Chair Rhacel Parreñas, University of California in San Francisco Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Nazareno and USC Ph.D. Candidate Yu Kang Fan, is based on a 100-person survey of Filipino elderly caregivers in Los Angeles and supplemented with data from in-depth interviews and focus groups.
The policy report was prepared with the cooperation of the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) and the University of California in LA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE).
There are about 39.6 million people in the US aged 65 years and older, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. The rapid increase of the aging population is expected to push that number up to 72.1 million by 2030, and therefore also push the demand for caregiving.
According to Parreñas, the researchers focused on Filipino elderly caregivers because many Filipinos are engaged in the home care industry but there is little information available on this segment of the work force, such as socio-demographic patterns, migration histories, labor conditions, workplace characteristics and the needs and social concerns of immigrant Filipino elderly caregivers.
The report found that of the 100 Filipino elderly caregivers surveyed, the majority are married and hold four-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.
Job security and lack of retirement funds were among their biggest concerns of most of the respondents. When asked when they planned to stop working, most answered “between the ages of 65-75.” However, most participants reported that they had no concrete retirement plans and not 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 immigrants 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 have difficulty finding jobs that recognize their previous work experience in the Philippines.
Advanced age a disadvantage
This advanced immigration 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 is the deplorably low wages the elderly caregivers receive. On average, those in private homes reportedly made $6.59 per hour; while those in “board and car” arrangements 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 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.
Hidden from peers
The researchers also believe that the Filipino elderly caregivers gravitate towards this industry because they are “hidden” in it.
“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 the report found that the majority of Filipino elderly care workers still preferred to work in private homes because they felt “less embarrassed.”
Most 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 work apparently “makes 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 offspring were not always in a position to care for their own children. 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 independent housing provides security and personal space for the caregivers during their days off from work. Parreñas stressed that there is a need for affordable housing that can support the elderly caregivers.
Elderly caregiving is an informal job that should be formalized, Parrenas recommends. “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 explained.
Companionship services should also be considered real work, the researchers proposed. Parrenas 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.
“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.