Monday, November 28, 2011

Multigenerational Families Around the World

Pema in traditional Bhutan Gho
  Happy Monday after Thanksgiving! As we're gearing up for the December 6th release of our latest signature report, Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy, I'm thinking back on my recent trip to Bhutan and India. Both are countries in which multigenerational households are the norm and deeply rooted in culture and tradition. In Bhutan, the only country to measure Gross National Happiness or GNH, our guide Pema shared his country's traditions and spiritual beliefs through wonderful, warm stories. He told us about the four pillars of GNH - promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement that is similar in nature to the Environmental Impact Statements required for development in the U.S.

Multigenerational households, extended family pooling and sharing resources under one roof, are one of cultural values being preserved. Pema, who is a 26 year old professional guide (and an excellent one I might add), explained that he lives with his parents, siblings, brother in law and nieces and nephews. They are 11 all told. Until his grandparents passed, they were with them as well. Many of his stories were those his grandparents taught him. Oral history carried from one generation to another.

In 1948, the United Nations declared "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State." As the "family" landscape evolves in the US and families are coming back together in record numbers, we can learn much from other cultures that have long understood we are stronger together. I hope you can join us on December 6th and learn more about our policy recommendations to support multigenerational households. For those of you unable to attend, the report will be posted on our website that afternoon. We ask you to join us in celebrating and advocating for that natural and fundamental group unit-the family-and each and every generation that makes up a family. Best, Donna 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Our Other Thanksgiving: A Multigenerational Family Story and Recipe

Other-Thanksgiving-2004 “Don’t adjust your glasses,” I affectionately teased as I captioned this Thanksgiving 2004 photograph for our family album. “Other Nana’s actually cooking.” Alice D’Amore, my husband’s grandmother, would rather make a reservation than cook a meal any day of the week. But this photo is truly miraculous, although for a different reason than you might guess.

Alice earned her rather unique nickname because my husband’s great-grandmother (the original Nana) lived with his family. As a toddler, my husband decided to call her the “Other Nana.” When I met her, Alice explained why she loved the name and the family continued to use it. “There are millions of grandmas out there, but I bet I am the only Other.”

Other was truly an original. Long before “Mad Men,” she regaled me with eye-opening stories about her experiences working as an executive secretary in Manhattan starting in the 1940s. While she enjoyed work greatly, it was also a necessity. My husband’s grandfather died in a tragic accident working an extra shift to save money for their new baby on the day they were supposed to bring my mother-in-law home from the hospital.

Other lived her life with a remarkable grit, a fabulous sense of style, and a wonderful spirit of adventure that she imparted to both her grandchildren. When my husband and I began dating in college, she quickly adopted me as one of her own. We grew very close, especially after I lost both my grandmother and grandfather before my husband and I got married in the summer of 2002.

In the fall of 2003, my husband and I moved to Philadelphia when he began a one-year clerkship with a federal judge after he graduated from law school. We had just settled into our new one bedroom apartment, when we got a phone call that changed our lives dramatically.

Alice fell while trying to swat a spider with a broom. She hit her head, causing a major bleed in her brain. After her surgery, she wasn’t waking up from her coma. My husband refused to give up on her and kept calling her name until she opened her eyes. While the brain surgery ultimately saved her life, it greatly damaged her balance. Alice could no longer live on her own.

I remember packing up her apartment with my sister-in-law Jayne, a college student on fall break at the time, in tears during Thanksgiving weekend 2003. The step-down rehabilitation facility in New Jersey discharged her a few days before when she failed to make additional improvement. At the ages of 26 and 27, my husband and I became her primary caregivers in a city that we lived in for two months. During the Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s house, I remember watching the fork miss Alice’s mouth as she desperately tried to feed herself.

As it turned out, our temporary location in Philadelphia helped us tremendously. Our apartment building allowed us to break our lease and move into a two bedroom on the same floor. When Alice’s health deteriorated and she was readmitted to the hospital, she received quality care on a special geriatric floor this time. Her doctors connected us with an acute rehabilitation service upon her discharge. A social worker there put us in touch with an intergenerational respite program at Temple University, that gave us a much needed break from round the clock care.

The Time Out Program at Temple University’s Intergenerational Center gave all of us a piece of our lives back again. At first, it gave my husband and me a chance to escape the relentless circle of round the clock care by going to the movies for a few hours. As Alice improved with intensive physical therapy, her paired student Emily eventually could take her on trips to the supermarket and help her pick up her medicines. To show her appreciation, Alice greatly enjoyed taking Emily out for cups of coffee and cake. She regaled Emily with her life stories and gently provided advice when asked as Emily decided what to do with her life after college.

Although she could never live on her own again, Other made a miraculous recovery that year that gave her a sense of independence back. She lived with us for five years. Before she passed away in July 2008, she got to meet her great grandson Joseph Henry who brought great joy to her final months. Our Thanksgiving story illustrates that intergenerational programs are not just nice, they are necessary.

Since Alice always appreciated a cocktail at the end of the day (in a tiny cordial-sized glass no less), we present a recipe for her favorite special occasion drink, a French 75. It fits her personality more than the mushroom soup she helped to make that day.

  • 3 ounces gin
  • 3 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 cup chilled champagne

In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, lemon juice, sugar, and ice cubes and shake to chill. Strain cocktails into glasses and top off with champagne. I hope you enjoy it as much as she did.


Written by Anne Tria Wise

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Generations United Final 2011 Conference Product is here!

During Rethinking and Revitalizing Intergenerational Connections, the Generations United conference this summer, we generated an incredible amount of creative ideas and provided focus for moving towards a society that embraces and meaningfully connects individuals of all ages. 

All of this phenomenal thinking has been collected and presented in the conference summary. Our Final Conference Product evolved from input prior, during and after the conference. We encourage you to read it and hope it inspires you to rethink and revitalize your work in your local communities. Use this blog as an open forum to share your work and your thoughts so that we continue our dialogue until we can meet again in person at the next Generations United conference in 2013.  We want to be sure our new interactive conference format continues throughout the year!

Our 2011 conference co-chairs will be writing a paper on bringing intergenerational work into the 21st century.  They are continuing to rethink the conference products and will be collaborating with our 2013 co-chairs to keep the rethinking and revitalizing rolling.  Stay tuned!  

We are also offering a webinar series featuring a few of the informative presentations from the 2011 conference – please join us for these continuing educational opportunities.

And, of course, we plan on seeing you at our next conference in the summer of 2013!

Multigenerational Families & the Economy

The recession has hit families hard.  People continue to struggle with weak job and housing markets.  The economic climate and other demographic factors have turned America back into a nation in which families increasingly lean on each other.  To stretch their resources and in some cases avoid poverty, older, middle-age, and young adults are living together under one roof in so called multigenerational families.

The Pew Research Center notes that the Great Recession triggered the “largest increase in the number of Americans living in multigenerational household in modern history.” One in six Americans now lives in such a household.  The number rose from 46.5 million in 2007 to 51.4 million by the end of 2009 -- a 10.5 percent increase in just three years.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center notes, “Living in a multigenerational household appears to be a financial lifeline for many.” Although multigenerational household incomes, adjusted for household size, are lower than incomes in non-multigenerational households, poverty rates are also lower: 11.5 percent among multigenerational households vs. 14.6 percent among non-multigenerational households in 2009.  The role this living arrangement plays in poverty alleviation is even more pronounced among the unemployed where the poverty rate in 2009 was 17.9 percent for those living in multigenerational households compared to 30.3 percent for those in other households.

Statistics like these are striking, but should be accompanied with a disclaimer which notes that the ability for these arrangements to alleviate poverty is limited.  Sharing rising living expenses across generations can make them more manageable, but a finite food budget can only be stretched so far before someone has to go without. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sacrifices are being made, often by older members of the household, to ensure that youngest members are adequately fed and clothed.  Policymakers, employers, foundations and other decision makers need to act now to better support these families.

On December 6th, Generations United will release a report “Family Matters: Multigenerational families in a Volatile Economy.”  It will include information from a new survey of multigenerational families about how they have been affected by the economy and make recommendations designed to better meet their needs.  Join us to for at this National Press Club event to learn more. Register today

This article is the final installment in Generations United’s Blog Series on the Economy

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Unemployment Struggles Affect All Ages

High unemployment in today’s economy is an issue that touches all ages. In fact, young adults and older adults are facing many of the same challenges in today’s marketplace, reinforcing the age-old saying, that we really are “in this together.”

Young adults are struggling to enter the workforce, while older adults are struggling to re-enter the workforce, some long after they planned to be working at all. Both generations are having great difficulties finding employment. In fact, unemployment among older adults practically doubled from the beginning of the recession in 2007 to 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Young adults faced similar circumstances; in 2010, young adults ages 16-29 experienced the lowest employment rate since the end of World War II.[i][ii] Even the summer job market for teens seemed to evaporate.[iii]

How has this affected teens, young adults, and older adults? Believe it or not – the generations are more alike than they are different in this area as well. Both groups faced increasingly long periods of unemployment or underemployment. For instance, recent studies show that more than half of older adults ages 50+ were unemployed for more than six months.[iv] Similarly, these long periods of unemployment or underemployment left many young people[v] and older adults feeling very discouraged and in need of motivation to continue their job search.

The needs of both groups are strikingly similar as well. To advance in their careers, teens and young adults need opportunities to gain the work experience they lack, while older adults may need opportunities for additional training to hone the skills they have developed.

Teens, young adults, and older adults are all striving to become or remain financially self-sufficient and independent, to take care of themselves and their loved ones. These are values that cross all generations.

In the upcoming weeks, as the Senate considers introducing pieces of the American Jobs Act, we urge you to contact your Members of Congress, and to remind them that unemployment touches every age group, and that job creation is vital for the prosperity of all generations.

This article is the second installment in Generations United’s Blog Series on the Economy
For more on how families are faring in this tough environment, register to attend Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy on December 6, 2011.

[i] The Deterioration in the Labor Market Fortunes of America’s Young Adults During the Lost Decade of 2000-2010.

[ii] Unemployment Among Older Adults Stuck Near Record Highs. Ken Schwartz. NCOA Responds with Employment Programs, Benefits Counseling for Economically Stressed Seniors

[iii] The Continued Collapse of the Nation’s Teen Summery Job Market: Who Worked in the Summer of 2011?
[iv] Urban Institute. Retirement Security Data Brief. Number 2, February 2011. How Did 50+ Workers Fare in 2010?

[v] The Deterioration in the Labor Market Fortunes of America’s Young Adults During the Lost Decade of 2000-2010.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Poverty in a Volatile Economy—How it Affects all Generations

Since the Great Recession, our families and our society have become increasingly more vulnerable. Poverty, food insecurity, and hunger all go hand in hand. In the face of the current economic recession, rates of hunger and food insecurity have significantly increased. The poor economy has resulted in more families living in poverty and having to choose between paying the mortgage and buying groceries.

In September, the Census Bureau released new figures that show a large number of children and older adults living in poverty. The number of people in poverty in 2010 (46.2 million) is the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.  Figures released yesterday from the supplemental poverty measure show that figure is actually more than 49.1 million when you take into account rising medical costs and other expenses.  The data confirm that millions of Americans continue to cope with the Great Recession’s enduring effects. It also shows the strength of our country’s safety net programs and argues against cutting these critical programs.

What is the effect of the Great Recession on children and older adults?
  • More than one out of every five children is living in poverty (16.4 million children)
  • One in six seniors is living in poverty.*
*According to official statistics, less than ten percent of the nation's 38 million seniors are living in poverty. But, once medical care and other costs of living are factored in, the number of people 65 and older living in poverty jumps to nearly 16 percent, according to the Census Bureau Supplemental Analysis.

Safety net programs give needy families a leg up when they fall on hard times.
One of the key programs that lowers the poverty rate among seniors is Social Security. Last year more than 14 million seniors were kept out of poverty because of Social Security, our nation’s most successful income protection program.

Unemployment insurance, which provides critical support to the jobless and stimulates economic activity, kept 3.2 million Americans out of poverty in 2010.

Medicaid provided health care to 48.6 million seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income children and families, many of whom would otherwise be without access to health care.

An alternative poverty measure that tracks the impact of the earned income tax credit shows that the EITC kept 5.4 million people, including 3 million children, from slipping below the poverty line last year.

How are families faring?
Though some families have decided to come together and live in multigenerational households to prevent poverty, the problems of a weakened economy still persist in our country. More families in poverty means fewer consumers for goods and services, greater unemployment, and a less-educated workforce.

Generations United urges Congress continue to protect these vulnerable populations by strengthening our social safety net programs that are helping to keep millions of Americans afloat. In order to emerge from the economic downturn, we must protect vulnerable populations and expand economic growth. The outcome of these investments will mean stronger families that have opportunities for success; a step towards breaking the cycle of poverty.

This article is the first installment in Generations United’s Blog Series on the Economy

For more on how families are faring in this tough environment, register to attend Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy on December 6, 2011.