Happy Grandparents Day
Johnny Mack Morrow
The Sunday after Labor Day is Grandparents Day. It certainly is no surprise that grandparents are celebrated with their own day–who else is more popular than the senior members of our families? While it is a day to celebrate our grandparents, it is also a good time to reflect on the situation of seniors, and what can be done to improve their lives.
Grandparents Day was first observed nationally in 1979, the day intending "to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children's children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer." When the holiday became federal law it moved to the less holiday-crowded September. Also organizers felt the fall date was symbolic of the "autumn" of life.
Since then, the autumn of life has lengthened considerably; grandparents and great grandparents are thankfully living longer than ever before. Since 1980, the number of people who are 65 and older has more than doubled. Life expectancy in Alabama increased greatly in the past two decades. Living longer brings new challenges to our state.
We have gotten older as a population faster than other states. Alabama ranks as the 14th oldest in the nation, while Georgia is the second youngest. For years, many of our children left our state to seek career and job opportunities in places like Atlanta and other high growth areas. For the first time in generations, this trend is changing for the better.
Alabama's unemployment rate is low, and demand for skilled labor, professionals, and workers of all kinds, is on the rise. Major manufacturers are moving to the state, current businesses are expanding, the service industry is healthy, and strong economic growth has been sustained for most of this decade. These factors are now inspiring many more of our grandchildren to stay in the state, and the average age of our population actually went down slightly over the past four years, according to U.S. Census estimates.
This is a very important trend. Most grandparents still work, and more than half of Alabamians over 65 still have full or part time jobs.
It is critical to keep our young people working here for continued economic growth. Businesses need younger workers to replace retiring workers and to keep labor costs stable (younger folks make less than those of us who have been at it longer). And after all, who doesn't like to have as much family around as possible?
Many of our grandparents don't have to look far for their grandchildren. Alabama ranks fifth in the nation for the percentage of grandparents who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. We should commend these folks for acting as parent and grandparent; they are the lifeline for so many children in our state.
At the same time, more grown children are taking care of their parents and grandparents. With life expectancy on the rise and the numbers of the very old growing, problems with infirmity and the need for full time care keep expanding. More than a third of Alabama's grandparents have some form of disability.
We can see this clearly in the numbers of our seniors needing nursing homes. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, only two states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, spent more on nursing homes than Alabama.
The state's Medicaid budget is feeling the strain because it is the primary way we pay for people in nursing homes.
Federally funded with a smaller state match necessary to drawn down dollars from Washington, Alabama's Medicaid program is as barebones as any in the country. Nonetheless, it's been reported that the program will need an extra $150 to $200 million just to keep the program at its current levels, where waiting lists keep growing.
The constant crisis we find ourselves in when it comes to funding healthcare for seniors doesn't ever seem to subside, and the population trends don't point to a let up any time soon. We are going to have to find a funding solution, and soon.
On this Grandparents Day, let's celebrate the senior members of our families, and think of those who have departed us. And let's use the day to commit ourselves to making all our senior's lives better in the future.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County.