Aging and Old People in America

The San Diego Foundation hosted another Future40 event at UCSD: “The Future of Age-Friendly Communities: Preparing for the Elder Boom in San Diego with Ai-jen Poo.”

This talk felt unrelated to any of the issues I’ve been involved with, but I decided to go and learn about what Ai-jen calls “the Elder Boom” – the demographic shift that will occur as the baby boomers reach retirement.

First, a bit about Ai-jen Poo:

  • 2015’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders
  • 2015 NonProfit Times Power & Influence Top 50
  • 2014 MacArthur Foundation fellow
  • 2013 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader
  • 2012 TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World
  • 2012 Newsweek’s 150 Fearless Women list (this one got a lot of applause from our audience)
  • 2011 Independent Sector’s American Express NGen Leadership Award

She also came across as a very sweet and genuine person, with great public speaking skills.

The main takeaway, for me: the care-taking economy needs to change.

Retirement homes are expensive. Many of our elderly would like to spend their days in their own homes, which is more affordable – in terms of both cost and dignity.

But having a loved one quit their job to become a family caretaker is rough on both parties. This brings us to the non-family home care workers.

The big problem: these caretakers are often overworked and underpaid.

They are also largely comprised of immigrant/minority groups and women. And their work is often under-appreciated and undervalued.

Would you take this demanding job for under $9/hour?



A few other takeaways:

Ai-jen mentioned this time-banking system in Japan, called Fureai Kippu, in which people can assist an elderly person in exchange for care credits that they may save for themselves, or transfer to someone else–say, their own elderly relative who lives elsewhere in the country.

On the government side, she mentioned the so-called “Panini effect” – the choice between attention and funding for the young and the old. Resources are being pulled at opposite ends.

She also talked a bit about Arizona and the polarized demographics that led to the anti-immigration law, SB 1070. I’ve visited a part of Arizona that is very old and very white. With the lack of interaction and understanding, it’s easy to see how this legislation came about.


I don’t know my father, so I only have one set of grandparents. My grandpa passed already, and I don’t interact with my grandma much, so the trials that come with eldercare haven’t confronted me… yet.

But my mother will inevitably reach this age, as will my sisters and I. Which brings us to the question: how do you want to deal with it?

Stay with family? Do you expect or desire your children to care for you? Go to a home?

Burial or cremation? Leave all your possessions to your spouse/dog? Donate your organs?

The latter questions weren’t addressed in this talk at all, but it’s really where my mind went. From friends and social media, I’ve heard much about the struggles of dealing with aging and death – emotionally and financially. Retirement homes are costly, as are funerals. This can only be more difficult when it’s unclear what your loved one would have wanted, or if they didn’t prepare a will.

These are uncomfortable topics for many, but a conversation that needs to be had.

We need to talk about how we’re going to take care of all our old people – on the family level, as well as on a national scale.

What you can do to help.

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UC San Diego grad with a double major in Economics and International Business. I was born and raised in sunny San Diego, but I love to travel (and eat) around the world.

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