A ‘diverse’ group of people part of population shift
Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 7:00 pm
By Dr. SANDY MURRAY
Special to The Press
Aging — what on earth does this have to do with diversity?
Well, let’s look at the definition of diversity again — “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements; especially the inclusion of different types of people.” Hmmm. Guess that makes aging people diverse.
Let’s look at some facts. There is a dramatic shift occurring in our population. Within 10 years, older people will outnumber children. In 2008, 506 million people were aged 65 or older. It is estimated that in 2030, 1.3 billion people will be 65 or older. This age group is increasing on an average of 870,000 per month. In Weakley County, 15.5 percent of the population is 65 or older. So of the 34,980 people who live in Weakley County 5,421 are 65 years old or older. Yikes.
Women who live to age 65 have a life expectancy of an additional 20 years, while men who reach this age will live 17.1 additional years. Older women outnumber older men by 5.9 million. It is estimated that 43 percent of older women are widows and many non-institutionalized older persons live alone. The median income of older persons in 2006 was $23,500 for men, $13,603 for women, and $39,649 for family households.
That means that 3.4 million older persons have an income that is below the poverty level.
The education level of aging persons has risen from 28 percent completing high school in 1970 to 77.5 percent who have a high school education with 19.5 percent of aging persons having a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Approximately 53 percent of older persons have some type of sensory, physical, and/or mental disability. Of those 37 percent have severe disabilities and 16 percent need assistance of some type. All of these factors are difficult to deal with, now compound getting older with having to raise your grandchildren. Wow.
In the United States, 4.5 million children are living with their grandparents. Oftentimes the grandparents take total responsibility of the child without the assistance of either of the child’s parents.
In Tennessee 101,510 children live with grandparent headed households and 24,774 children live with other relatives. This is 7.3 percent of all the children who live in the state of Tennessee. Of those children living with grandparents or other relatives 56,682 live without either parent. The Census Bureau reports that in Weakley County, Tennessee approximately 588 children under the age of 18 are living in a grandparent headed householder, some with and some without a parent present. I don’t know about you, but my seven-year-old granddaughter wears me out.
Why are grandparents taking on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren? The most common reasons for this phenomenon are incarceration, drug abuse, and parental illness. However, one of the most disheartening reasons is abandonment of the child(ren) by the parent(s). This can be due to teenage pregnancy, homelessness, and neglect. Other children are court-ordered to be removed from the parent(s) due to abuse or neglect.
So how does this have anything to do with diversity? Several reasons. Not only do these living arrangements create unique situations for the child they also create unique situations for the grandparents. At my age — old — I expect to be able to live my golden years relaxing and taking care of me. Though I love my granddaughter beyond belief, I do not expect to be a parent to her. I did my job as mother to her father. Now I want to spoil my granddaughter, and give her back to her mother when I am tired of her. If I were responsible for her I would not have that luxury. I would need to be the disciplinarian instead of the spoiler. Not a good choice for me. I would have to oversee homework, sports practice, dating, and on and on and on. I already did that. I don’t want to do it again.
Besides that part of the equation there is technology, social media, new social norms, legal issues, financial concerns, college, and an extensive list of other responsibilities… I am pretty technologically savvy for my age. But don’t ask me to Twitter, or Skype. I have no clue how to do that. And what the heck is FaceBook, and iTunes. And for sure I do not like the way children dress these days. Cover more up. Pull your pants up to your waist. Wear a belt. I am certain that if I were raising a grandchild they would be the most modestly dressed person in the school — also the most ostracized. How do I prevent my grandchild from online predators? How much does it cost to go to college? Where do I get the legal documents to allow me to grant permission for medical procedures? Who will take care of her if I should be sick or die? Who will take care of me? What if my husband gets sick and I have him to take care of too? Will I ever be able to stop working? I am old for goodness sake. Okay, I’m on a roll here, but as I think about raising a seven-year-old all of these questions come flowing into my already reeling mind.
So back to the topic. Aging. How do we help those who are aging? Not only those who are thrust into the position where they must care for grandchildren, but those who are just growing old. I was fortunate to be able to know both of my grandfathers. My maternal grandfather died when I was a child, my paternal grandfather when I was nearly 50. The one thing that I liked the most was sitting and talking to them. Them being my savior. I remember my maternal grandpa sitting with me under the walnut tree in the front yard talking about farming, and patiently getting me out of the plum tree before grandma caught me up there. Or when my paternal grandfather talked to my son about the Great Depression and provided me with bags of groceries while I was a starving college student.
Both shared wonderful stories, provided support in one way or another. We need to realize that aging people want to be recognized for what they have contributed to the world; what they can still contribute. Everyone leaves a footstep on the sands of time. Those footsteps need to be recognized and honored for their presence. Supported and listened to.
Moreover, grandparents raising grandchildren need additional support. They need to know how to get the legal documents they need for custody, where to get medical attention, how to fill out college applications, where to get financial aid, and more importantly who will listen when they are frustrated. Where can they go to be heard, supported, loved. There are multiple agencies that can help with issues faced by grandparents raising grandchildren. It isn’t easier the second time around.
Okay here are some websites that can provide information on aging issues: http://marriage.about.com/cs/grandparenting/a/raisinggrandkid.htm
Editor’s note: Dr. Sandra S. Murray is an associate professor originating from Columbus, Ind. She has earned a master’s in Early Childhood Education from Florida Atlantic University; an Educational Specialist in School Administration P-12 from Nova Southeastern University; and a doctorate in School Administration in Higher Education from Argosy University/Sarasota. She moved to Martin in 2006 to teach at UT Martin. Dr. Murray teaches online graduate courses in educational leadership; multicultural issues in education and counseling; and an occasional face-to-face undergraduate course.
Published in The WCP 10.2.12