Rosalynn Carter Advocates for Law Giving Services to Older Americans

May 26, 2011 2:02pm

ABC News’ Arlette Saenz (@arlettesaenz) reports:

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter is on Capitol Hill today to advocate on behalf of the older generation, urging Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which provides seniors with access to care giving services.

Carter’s personal stake in the OAA stems from her early years as a caregiver for her father.  At the age of twelve, Carter, the oldest of four children, joined her mother in caring for her father, who was diagnosed with leukemia, and later her grandfather who was bedridden in the late years of his life.

“I still vividly remember going to my secret hiding place, the outdoor privy, to cry,” Carter will say, according to written testimony to the Senate Special Committee on Aging.  “I was the oldest child, I felt the burden of needing to help care for my father and my three younger siblings; yet I was scared and didn’t always feel like being strong.”

The former First Lady also established the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving in Georgia, which supports caregivers and their loved ones dealing with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Elizabeth Marshall, a 92 year old who was elected as the first female mayor of York, Pa. in 1977, joined Carter in urging Congress to reauthorize the act.  Marshall receives assistance from the York County Area Agency on Aging and providers in the area, who bring her meals three times a week and provide companionship enabling her to stay in her own home.

“I am proud to still be an independent woman.  I want to be able to stay in my home,” Marshall said in prepared testimony. 

Marshall, who worked until the age of 82, boasts that her theme song is “A Little Bit Independent,” which she quoted during her testimony.

“I have worked throughout my life to be an independent woman, to find my strengths and use them, whether in service to my family, community or country; or simply as a self-reliant individual in my own right.”

Originally enacted in 1965, The Older Americans Act devised programs to ensure communities have the means to develop social services for older people.

Carter and Marshall’s advocacy comes as Congress debates cuts in the Medicare program and new Census data reveals men are narrowing the female advantage gap, particularly in older generations.

Women continue to have longer life expectancies than men, but according to new 2010 Census data released today, men are inching towards women as they narrow the gender gap in old age while technological, healthcare and policy advancements provide many Americans with tools to lead longer lives.

In the category of Americans ages 65 and older, the number of men has grown by 21 percent since 2000 while the number of women has increased at a slower pace of 11.2 percent.  In the subgroup of Americans ages 65 to 74, the male to female ratio has narrowed.  Women only exceed men by 1.5 million, a drop from 1.8 million in 2000.

Women continue to outnumber men in the United States by 5.18 million, a slight jump from the 5.3 million difference in 2000.  Despite being outnumbered, the number of men in the country increased at a faster rate, growing by 9.9 percent while the number of women only increased by 9.5 percent.  For every 100 women in the U.S. in 2010, there were 96.7 men.  In 2000, the male-female ratio was 96.3.

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