In her comments on Tuesday’s post, Amy raised the issue of grandparents providing child care for children, and specifically whether this was compatible with the idea of delayed retirement floated by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
A few thoughts:
First, the Committee on Aging is a “special” committee, which means that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over any real legislation. (Most of the programs that affect the elderly are under the jurisdiction of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, Committee.) So its hearings are an opportunity for Senators to bring in some witnesses and jawbone about issues affecting the elderly, so they can write letters to their constituents saying how hard they’re working to protect them. Or, phrased somewhat less cynically, it’s an opportunity to raise the profile of issues in order to build public support for action.
Second, it’s clearly true that more and more people are going to be working past the traditional retirement age of 65. For one thing, 65-year-olds are more likely to be healthy and not to think of themselves as elderly. For another thing, most people can’t afford to retire at 65. This is especially true if you have — as most workers now do — defined contribution retirement plans (e.g. 401(k)s) rather than defined benefit plans. If you retire at 65, the odds are quite high that you will outlive your savings.
(Do you know the story of how the retirement age was set? It dates back to Bismarck in Germany. He wanted to offer pensions, but he didn’t want it to cost a lot, and his actuaries told him that most people were dead by 70, so that was set as the retirement age. It was eventually lowered to 65.)
Third, not all grandparents are in their 60s or older. Many are in their 40s or 50s — and this is especially true among low-income grandparents. (Age at first birth is highly correlated with education, and thus with income.)
Fourth, looking into the question of grandparent child care led me to this recent Child Trends Research Brief. Using some recent national surveys, they found that 47 percent of grandparents with grandchildren living nearby provided some sort of child care assistance. (Grandmothers provided child care more often and for more hours than grandfathers, but over 1/3 of grandfathers with grandchildren nearby provided child care.) Interestingly, employed grandparents were more likely to provide child care than those who were unemployed or retired. Presumably, this is because employed grandparents are less likely to have a serious health condition that precludes both work and child care.
So, while I agree with Amy’s general point that many members of Congress don’t have a clue about the lives of low-income parents, I’m not convinced that this hearing was evidence of it.
As for me, my parents live 300 miles away, and my husband’s are even further. After visiting my family last weekend, and watching my 3 1/2-year-old interact with his grandparents and aunts and uncles, I started having thoughts about moving back to NY. Then I saw the real estate section of the New York Times, and was brought crashing down to reality.