Ai-Jen Poo: In the spir­it and in hon­or of my grand­moth­er and all the peo­ple in our lives who’ve tak­en care of us, let’s give them all a huge round of applause.

Mrs. Sun, like so many nan­nies and house­keep­ers and care­givers for the elder­ly across the coun­try, con­tribute so much to our fam­i­lies, to our com­mu­ni­ties, and to our econ­o­my. And yet most domes­tic work­ers earn pover­ty wages, when they’re paid at all, have no ben­e­fits, no labor pro­tec­tions, and many are undoc­u­ment­ed, with­out a path to cit­i­zen­ship. Which will change soon, and we’re going to hear more about that.

But today in America, the peo­ple who take such good care of us every day, tak­ing care of the most pre­cious ele­ments of our lives, are not cared for in return. And, being my grand­moth­er’s grand­daugh­ter, it won’t sur­prise you that I now work for an orga­ni­za­tion of Mrs. Suns. 

Women like Marlene Champion, who is a care­giv­er in New York. Marlene loves doing the work that she does. She takes incred­i­ble pride in tak­ing care of chil­dren and watch­ing them grow and learn, and tak­ing care of the elder­ly and watch­ing them come out of their shells. And she’s real­ly seen it all. She’s seen employ­ers who she’s kept in touch with for twen­ty years, decades. And she’s also seen the whole oth­er end of the spec­trum. Employers who’ve asked her to clean the floor with a tooth brush. Employers who haven’t paid her for sev­er­al weeks on end, say­ing that they for­got.” She’s seen it all. And that’s why she joined our move­ment. And she helped make it pos­si­ble for there to be the pas­sage of the first ever domes­tic work­ers’ bill of rights in the state of New York in 2010.

So, domes­tic work­ers have basic rights and pro­tec­tions on the job and can be treat­ed fair­ly in New York. And now, just two years lat­er there are sim­i­lar bills pend­ing in five states around the coun­try. So we’re mak­ing a lot of progress.

But a few years ago, women like Marlene start­ed com­ing to us and say­ing, We want train­ing in elder care.” And we were find­ing that more and more work­ers, house­keep­ers, and nan­nies were sud­den­ly being called upon to take care of the aging rel­a­tives of their employ­ers. And they want­ed train­ing. They want­ed prepa­ra­tion. And what we real­ized was that we were expe­ri­enc­ing the rum­blings of a tremen­dous demo­graph­ic shift that’s hap­pen­ing in this coun­try. The age wave.

Today in America, every eight sec­onds, some­one turns sixty-five. Ten thou­sand peo­ple per day, four mil­lion peo­ple per year, turn sixty-five in America. Some call it the sil­ver tsuna­mi.” Whatever you call it, it has arrived. And it comes at the same time that we’re expe­ri­enc­ing anoth­er demo­graph­ic shift, with the growth of com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, par­tic­u­lar­ly immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, where many say that by the year 2040 we will be a major­i­ty minor­i­ty nation. Well, if you think of women as a minor­i­ty then we’ve been a major­i­ty minor­i­ty for a long time. But what­ev­er is hap­pen­ing now is cer­tain­ly start­ing to reshape American politics. 

Map of Ohio counties colored by age ranges, for the year 2000; three counties are colored orange

Take Ohio, for exam­ple. This is a map of Ohio by coun­ty. Today in Ohio, the pop­u­la­tion is 83.6% white, 12.4% African-American, and 5% immi­grant, includ­ing Latino. The orange coun­ties are coun­ties where 2325% of the pop­u­la­tion is age six­ty or older. 

The same map, but showing data for the year 2010; three counties are red, with a scattering of orange, indicating the next age range down

Now let’s look at Ohio in 2010. The red coun­ties are the coun­ties where 2535% of the pop­u­la­tion is over the age of sixty. 

The same map again, showing projected data for the year 2020; it is almost completely orange or red, indicating populations 23-35% over the age of 60

And now let’s take a glimpse into our near future. This is Ohio in the year 2020

But the truth is that many of us are already feel­ing this shift. Many of us know some­body who’s been diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s. Many of us have expe­ri­enced a fam­i­ly mem­ber hav­ing a stroke. Many of us sim­ply have peo­ple that we know and love in our lives who should­n’t be dri­ving on their own or oper­at­ing a stove on their own. It’s hap­pen­ing, and we’re feel­ing it all around us, that the need for care, sup­port, and ser­vices for the aging is real­ly grow­ing. And we’re all feel­ing it, we can’t man­age it, we don’t know how we’re going to afford it. And some­times we need to hire peo­ple who are undoc­u­ment­ed, and there’s just all of these dif­fi­cul­ties. Every way that you look at it, there’s lots of difficulties.

So here we are grap­pling with it, and we’ve sud­den­ly become a coun­try of mil­lions of fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als who are grap­pling with the same sets of strug­gles in iso­la­tion. And that is why we start­ed talk­ing to aging groups, dis­abil­i­ty groups, Alzheimer’s asso­ci­a­tions, home care unions, wom­en’s orga­ni­za­tions, care­giv­er asso­ci­a­tions. And what we real­ized is that this is a moment of oppor­tu­ni­ty. It’s an incred­i­ble moment of oppor­tu­ni­ty to bring us all togeth­er to fun­da­men­tal­ly reclaim care as an American val­ue and cre­ate a car­ing econ­o­my that actu­al­ly works for all of us. That ties our inter­ests togeth­er, whether we’re con­sumers, or care work­ers, or providers, or fam­i­ly mem­bers, which is pret­ty much all of us. That we all have a com­plete­ly inter­de­pen­dent and shared des­tiny, and a com­mon inter­est for a more car­ing America that works for all of us.

So, we are build­ing a move­ment called Caring Across Generations. And what we’re doing is we’re build­ing what we call a new car­ing major­i­ty in the United States that brings togeth­er all of our dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences across race and class and gen­er­a­tion, and puts for­ward a vision for the future that includes and has a place for all of us, and takes care of all of us.

And they’re very con­crete solu­tions that we can pur­sue. Solutions like the cre­ation of two mil­lion new, qual­i­ty jobs in home-based care to sup­port peo­ple to stay at home and age in place. More afford­able, acces­si­ble care for all of us. And path­ways to career advance­ment and cit­i­zen­ship for the immi­grant care work­force. There are lots of solu­tions that we can pur­sue here.

But what is at stake is actu­al­ly much big­ger than just home care. What’s at stake is the future of the coun­try. The coun­try is chang­ing right before our eyes. And it is up to us to craft a vision for the future that tru­ly does take into account who we are and who we’re becom­ing as a nation. 

So whether we’re a white senior in Ohio, or an African-American vet­er­an in Virginia, or an immi­grant domes­tic work­er in Los Angeles, or an LGBT young per­son in Arizona, the future of this coun­try has to not only have a place for all of us but be able to take care of all of us. And in craft­ing that vision and build­ing it togeth­er, we can fun­da­men­tal­ly trans­form the coun­try in all of our interests.

And if we do not, we risk greater polar­iza­tion along lines of race and gen­er­a­tion than ever before, and greater polit­i­cal grid­lock on all of the things that we care about. So there’s so much at stake here in this moment in his­to­ry in the coun­try, tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty, and it’s up to us.

So in build­ing this move­ment for a car­ing major­i­ty, we believe that we have to return to our fun­da­men­tal core val­ues. Values that real­ly bring out the best in who we are. Values like respect. Like oppor­tu­ni­ty. Like democ­ra­cy. And care. Dare I say love. The stuff that our grand­moth­ers taught us. The stuff that brings out the best in who we are as indi­vid­u­als and as a nation.

And this move­ment is going to be pow­ered by rela­tion­ships and sto­ry. It’s going to be dri­ven by the sto­ry of who we are and how we val­ue care, and how we want to take care of each oth­er and our fam­i­lies. And once we sit and lis­ten to one anoth­er’s sto­ries, we’ll be able to build a real, mean­ing­ful human rela­tion­ships across very diverse expe­ri­ences. And many peo­ple have talked about the pow­er of sto­ry today. So, this car­ing major­i­ty it’s going to be pow­ered by story. 

We believe that the new car­ing major­i­ty in this coun­try is right here in this room, and you can see the seeds of it every­where all around. That it is with­in reach. And many of us or all of us here in this room today are start­ing to build it. You can see seeds of it every­where, includ­ing right in our own fam­i­lies. Thank you.