Most aging Filipino caregivers can’t afford to retire
LOS ANGELES, California— Most elderly Filipino caregivers in the Los Angeles area work past retirement age due to the lack of employment protection and benefits, the 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 (USC) sociology department chair Rhacel Parreñas, University of California in San Francisco PhD candidate Jennifer Nazareno and USC PhD candidate Yu Kang Fan, is based on a 100-person survey of elderly Filipino caregivers in Los Angeles and supplemented with data from in-depth interviews and focus groups.
The policy report was prepared with the cooperation of Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) and the University of California in Los Angeles Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
There are about 39.6 million people in the United States aged 65 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 care giving.
According to Parreñas, the researchers focused on elderly Filipino caregivers because many Filipinos are engaged in the home-care industry, but there was little information available on this segment of the workforce, such as sociodemographic patterns, migration histories, labor conditions, workplace characteristics and the needs and social concerns of elderly Filipino caregivers.
The report found that of the 100 elderly Filipino caregivers surveyed, majority were 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 the biggest concerns of most of the respondents. When asked when they planned to stop working, most answered “between the ages of 65 and 75.” However, most participants reported that they had no concrete retirement plans and not enough savings, and intended to work past retirement age.
US Census data from 2000 until 2010 suggested that new immigrants—from across all nationalities—tended 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 preferred jobs in elderly care-giving because 1) it was convenient; 2) they were too old to pursue a career in the United States, and/or 3) they had difficulty finding jobs that recognized their previous work experience in the Philippines.
Age a disadvantage
This advanced immigration age, Parreñas noted, negatively affected the respondent’s ability to secure good jobs in the labor market. They were “not as attractive” to potential employers because of their advanced age and unrecognized work experience.
As a result, they ended up working as home-based caregivers. While many of the respondents indicated that they were legally documented immigrants (60 percent), a great number were reported to be undocumented immigrants (40 percent).
Another alarming pattern was the deplorably low wages that 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 received payment with a W-2 form. In other words, only 28 percent of the respondents had employers who contributed to their social security, unemployment and Medicare benefits.
This absence of employer contributions to social security was a factor that deterred 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 elderly Filipino caregivers gravitated toward this industry because they were “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 majority of elderly Filipino care workers still preferred to work in private homes because they felt “less embarrassed.”
Most elderly Filipino care workers were highly educated and experienced a decline in social status when they worked 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, played a key factor in the respondents’ inability to save up for retirement. The biggest monthly expense for caregivers was their rent, which averaged at $639 per month.
Meanwhile, 71 percent of the respondents said they still sent money to the Philippines. Of that, about 38 percent said they sent an average of about $200-$499 per month.
According to Parreñas, the caregivers felt that they still needed to send money back to the Philippines because many of their relatives largely depended 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 were still sending their grandchildren to school.
Housing was found to be a “hidden need,” especially for live-in caregivers. The researchers said independent housing provided security and personal space for the caregivers during their days off from work. Parreñas stressed that there was a need for affordable housing that can support the elderly caregivers.
Elderly care giving is an informal job that should be formalized, Parreñas recommended. “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. Parreñas added that elderly care giving was a “microcosm of a larger systemic problem” in America—an increasing number of low-wage workers who are not secure in their positions.
PWC executive director Aquilina Soriano Versoza echoed Parreñas’ sentiments. Versoza said it was 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,” she 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.
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