Working at 84 Isn’t She Lucky

Mildred Copeland is 84 and is still waiting tables after 34 years.

Copeland: You get to that time in your life when you think I can just sit back and relax a little bit and not have to worry but it’s not like that.  I thank God everyday for a job, for my home, it’s paid for.  That’s one thing I don’t have to worry about. 

Ali Velshi:  That woman that you had in your story, the woman that had been a waitress.  I almost wonder whether people who live close to the edge but don’t carry a lot of debt are not as affected by this recession.  They have sort of been living in that state for awhile, there’s not a lot of room that they have to fall. 

Thelma Gutierrez: Ali you’re absolutely right.  I think that’s the lesson here.  You look at somebody like Mildred she’s 84 years old.  She’s still waiting tables but she’s doing it top supplement her social security income.  The most important thing here is that she has no mortgage.  She doesn’t have the monkey on her back that we all have and so she doesn’t have to worry.  She feels that she is going to be able to move through this crises because she lives simply.  She was able to pay off her house and she doesn’t have the big worry that so many people out there have which is mortgage. 

Gotta love it when the media stunningly misses the point.   Mildred is 84 years old and should not have to work another day to supplement her income and yet they portray her as “lucky” to just be able to survive.  It’s like they’re saying, look she can eat and has a warm bed therefore, she has no reason to complain.

Many senior women are living in poverty.  Often times their retirement benefits are based on their husbands pensions because women of Mildred’s age stayed home to raise their children or spent a significant amount of time out of the workforce.  This is particularly problematic as women typically out live their spouses, which leaves them with a reduction of income and or benefits as many plans do not include a survivor clause. In a study of poverty on women that examined the years 1984-2003 between 41%-67& of single women over the age of 65 lived in poverty. The widest gender gap in poverty levels is between senior men and women, with 21% of senior women living in poverty as opposed to 11% of senior men.

Clearly there is a genderized aspect to poverty and old age.  The fact that women spend their golden years struggling to survive after dedicating a lifetime to their families speaks to the fact that we routinely devalue women’s labour based in the idea that we do so out of an innate desire to nurture.  From the moment our mothers place that first baby doll into our hands, we learn that our role in life is to care for others first and it is not until the end of our lives that we realize the terrible cost that we have paid for our self-sacrificing behaviour.

When we factor in that seniors often have the added expenses that arise out of healthcare concerns, poverty can be the difference between life and death.  Clearly, working as a waitress there is high possibility that Mildred is not receiving health insurance and while she is able to supplement her old age pension by working, what will become of her when her body inevitably begins to fail? 

Much of the social programs that used to be covered by the state have either been reduced or cancelled out right.  It is assumed that a senior will have a child that will assume the burden of their care.  Not all senior people had children and not all relationships with adult children are positive.  

An estimated 550,000 people of age 65 or older were abused in 1996 across the country, according to the first National Elder Abuse Incidence Study. The exact rates are unclear because many victims don’t seek help and there is no mandatory reporting of elder abuse, as there is with spousal or child abuse. This has become a growing problem. Reported cases are likely a fraction of the actual incidence of abuse. Elder abuse shortens the life of the elderly! According to Dr. Mark S. Lachs, the professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and co-author Dr. Karl Pillemer, the professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University in Ithaca, between 2 and 10 percent of the elderly are physically or mentally abused. They also figured out that mistreated seniors are three times more likely to die within three years than those who are not abused. Elder abuse is often not recognized, particularly those abused in the home. If only family members care for the frail elderly, how can violence be detected?

The state of senior citizens is precarious in the best of economic times.  During the course of a recession depression when more stress than ever is experienced, it is quite easy to take out frustrations on those that are most vulnerable within a household.  The system is already overloaded and the first round of the baby boomers are just beginning to attempt to retire.   Unless we take concrete measures to ensure a decent standard of living and care I fear that the state of elderly women will reach a terrible state.

H/T The Zoo

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