As women age, they face myriad challenges in caring for their elderly parents and in adequately preparing for their own retirement.
That was the consensus of a panel discussion on women and aging, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on May 10 and hosted by Volunteers of America, one of the nation's leading providers of housing and services for seniors.
"We need to address the looming potential catastrophe," said panelist Mike King, president and CEO of Volunteers of America. He said that by 2030 the United States will have the largest senior population in its history, but that institutions, public policy — and individuals themselves — are "frighteningly unprepared" for this reality.
The roundtable, moderated by medical journalist Dr. Bob Arnot, coincided with the release of Volunteers of America's new white paper — Boomer Bust 2011: Still Unprepared and Unaware — that outlines the financial challenges facing older Americans and their caregivers.
Panelist Arianna Huffington, co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, began the discussion by making a contrast between American society and her native country. "There is something in American culture that does not celebrate old age," she said. "I come from Greece, where we revere old age… We need to redefine what it is to take care of older family members so that task is not perceived as drudgery."
The panelists focused on the ways that problems associated with aging disproportionately affect women. According to Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, women are far more likely to be caregivers to family members and they're also more likely to be poorer and sicker as they age themselves.
She called for policy changes that could ease the problem: an end to the wage gap that contributes to lower lifetime earnings for women; more flexibility in the workplace to make it easier for caregivers; and changes to the health care system. "We have a system that is so dysfunctional that it's like an obstacle course for both women as patients and the caregivers who care for them," Ness said.
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, executive vice president of multicultural markets and engagement for AARP, called on women to better prepare for their own long-term care needs. "The biggest barriers are lack of knowledge and preparation," she said.
Cortés-Vázquez listed four areas that women should focus on as they plan for their future: taking better care of their health; saving more for retirement; finding housing options so they'll be able to live independently; and preparing appropriate legal documents, such as an advance directive. She directed the audience to an AARP's Decide. Create. Share. program that can help them make those preparations.
"As our report states, preparation must occur on more than just the personal level," said King. "Local, state and federal governments must begin to make changes now to help current caregivers and future retirees so that the impending wave of 78 million baby boomers does not wipe out the finances of future generations."
Also of interest: AARP Retirement Calculator
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