Grandparents raising grandchildren face variety of challenges

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2003

For a few years now, the public has been hearing reports of older people returning to the workplace, whether it be from boredom in retirement or the need to earn a few extra dollars to supplement other income.

(Recently) the nation learned through a new Census Bureau report that a large number of older people who live with their grandchildren under age 18 are also the primary caregivers of those children. The report also included unsettling data that showed nearly 19 percent of grandparents living in poverty while providing for their grandchildren.

Whether the numbers about caregiving show a rising or falling trend isn't stated in the report, which uses data from the 2000 census. But it's sufficient to note that older Americans are not shy about picking up where the subsequent generation has either failed or fallen on difficult times.

What about Alaska?

In this state, more than 5,400 grandparents were responsible for the needs of their live-in grandchildren in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. Of those, 38.5 percent had been the responsible adult for five years or more and 32.6 percent were age 60 or over, a rate exceeded in only five other states.

Alaska does fare better than all but 11 states as far as the number of grandparent caregivers living in poverty. Even so, the rate shows that just over 600 older Alaskans were raising grandchildren in an unacceptable condition in 1999, the year used by the Census. That compares to 14 percent of all families living with children.

But what should be made of all this data?

The report on grandparents as caregivers, which came at the direction of Congress in 1996, makes no recommendations on what should be done; that's not the role of the agency. But others are already taking up that task. Advocacy groups have begun lobbying for federal aid for the 2.4 million grandparents nationally who have become primary caregivers. Bills have been filed in Congress to provide assistance but have not been acted on.

This latest report by the Census Bureau is a first and will likely get more people, including members of Congress, talking about the challenges of modern-day grandparenting. That talk needs to occur in Alaska, too. For it's clear that a few hundred grandparents could use a hand.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Oct. 18

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