I don’t recall much fanfare about it, but last year, Maggie Kuhn’s Grey Panthers movement died for lack of interest. A splinter groups survives but so far they have made few waves, even though in the United States, we have a growing aging population. Certainly, the elderly need their advocates. Social Security has no interest in helping them keep up with the cost of living, even as the Federal Reserve Board hopes to raise inflation to 2%.
Journalist Maggie White gives us a poignant portrait of today’s elderly as they strive to keep a roof over their heads. (“The Ripple Effect,” by Maggi White, Boomer & Senior News, Feb. 2016, pgs. 1-3) In Portland, Oregon, she notes, the cost of rental housing has escalated by 60%, forcing some elderly into the streets. (Ibid, pg. 1) Non-profits and senior centers have seen their client base explode. As one head of a non-profit explains, “Housing used to be 25 percent of budget, now it is 50 percent or higher…” (Ibid pg 2) Another provider agrees, admitting that between 2014 and 2015, she’s seen a 62% increase in those seeking assistance. (Ibid pg. 3) With so much demand and so few resources, these caregivers are relegated to wiping away tears instead of being able to offer tangible assistance.
A person might argue the elderly should have done more to prepare for their senior years. But few would have been prescient enough to predict the 2008-2009 financial debacle. And how could the woman who rented the same house for 25 years have anticipated her rent would go up $120 last year and another $50 this year? (Ibid pg. 2.)
Seniors aren’t alone in facing this predicament. The young live with their parents because they can’t afford housing. But, that’s what leaves me to wonder why the Grey Panthers died at this moment in history. Its purpose was to unite the old and the young wasn’t it? Together, they intended to create a formidable political hammer for social reform. Now, in this time of crisis, the panther has died with a whimper. Why?
As Maggi once said, not enough people know how to be old Even fewer remember how to dream. I’m hoping someone will emerge with her same fire in the belly and her mesmerizing vision. April 22nd marks 21 years since Maggi’s death. It’s time for the panther’s rebirth.