Caregiving as a Race-Gendered Issue
Caregiving as a Race-Gendered Issue
Abstract and Keywords
Chapter 6 examines whether and how race- and gender-consciousness shapes Black women’s legislative decision making. It investigates Black women’s views on the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill and compares them with a sample of those of Black men and White women and men. As a result, the chapter evaluates the effects of race and gender on representation in the case of legislation that is specifically classified as a women’s-interest bill.
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.
It’s so clear that you have to cherish everyone. I think that’s what I get from these older Black women that every soul is to be cherished, that every flower is to bloom.
Taking care of the elderly is primarily a women’s issue. Indeed, the National Organization of Women has declared caregiving a feminist concern (www.now.org) and details that women make up 90 percent of the professional caregivers and 75 percent of the informal caregivers in the United States. Caregiving is a feminist issue not only because women are more likely than men to be caregivers of a spouse and parent but also because women are the majority of the elderly who will eventually need care (Ingersoll-Dayton, Starrels, and Dowler 1996). The interdependent and overlapping nature of race and gender makes caregiving a distinctly race-gender issue. Furthermore, research shows that women caregivers are most likely to be Black (Navaie-Waliser, Spriggs, and Feldman 2002). Because caregiving is an issue that disproportionately affects Black women, this chapter examines, comparatively, legislators’ support of the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, which takes up issues related to the gendered nature of caretaking. It provides an important comparison to the previous chapter on marriage equality and shows that Black women elected to public office are unified, regardless of age or generational affiliation, in their support for the bill.
(p.152) I have previously argued that whether an African American legislator hews to an essentialist or nonessentialist Black political identity impacts his or her willingness to represent an advanced marginalized population. The departure of younger Black women from the strictures of essentialist Black political identity allows them to advocate for marriage equality. By placing Black women within a racialized narrative, I find that a racial identity is relevant to forging an understanding of how Black women politically represent advanced marginalized groups—populations that are further stigmatized within a larger marginalized population. This finding is significant because it illustrates how much race-gender identification influences legislative advocacy. This chapter explores African American women’s willingness and eagerness to represent the elderly, and so I present here an analysis of Black women state legislators’ views on protecting the elderly. Unlike White women, White men, and Black men, African American women couch their support for the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, which would make it a crime to take advantage of a senior citizen for financial gain, within their own experiences of caregiving for elderly relatives. While all legislators agree that the elderly are a group that deserves their advocacy, the legislators use different thematic constructions to frame their support of this bill. By comparing the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill to the Religious Freedom and Protection of Civil Marriage Bill, I further investigate how legislators determine which populations are worthy of their representation. Comparing these bills allows me to understand whether there is something unique about how intersectional identities determine legislators’ support for groups they, along with dominant society, construct as deserving or undeserving of political representation. Representational identity theory, the concept that Black women legislators use their race-gender identities and experiences as Black women to shape their legislative behavior, helps me to illustrate that Black women, as a group, use their perceptions of the interests of Black women to guide their policy positions on this bill.
The themes in the narratives of Black women are central in this chapter, although I also include the voices of Black men, White men, and White women to highlight the unique nature of African American women’s relationship to representing the needs of the elderly. I also examine to what extent, if any, African American women view representation for the elderly as a women’s issue and whether they see themselves as representing women’s interests. Here, as in other instances throughout the study, intersectional analysis helps me to account for the distinctive experiences and worldviews that Black women have forged based on their encounters with both racism and sexism.
(p.153) In using this issue to compare Black women to three other demographic groups of legislators, I highlight how race-gender identities make Black women legislators distinctive in their legislative behavior. Perhaps the obvious choice would have been to compare Black women and White women’s legislative decision making on a gender-issue bill, just as the previous chapter compared African American women and men’s positions on a racialized bill. However, the data revealed that both Black and White men, surprisingly, use similar cognitive frameworks to women when they explain their support of this legislation. The main distinction is that the Black women legislators in this study comprise the only group that actively serves as caregivers for elderly parents, an experience that uniquely influences their legislative decision-making process on this bill.
Legislators advocate for groups in different ways depending on the group’s social status and on whether the legislation is a consensus issue, that is, an issue that impacts the Black community at large, or a cross-cutting issue, that is, an issue that affects groups across identity categories and thus requires cross-group mobilization. By exploring how Black women respond to specifically gendered legislation, I show that a race-gender identity plays a role in determining legislative support for legislation. I have furthermore selected the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill as a comparison case to the Religious Freedom and Protection of Civil Marriage Bill precisely because it did not center on a stigmatized and marginalized population. Comparing these bills allows deeper exploration of Black women’s political advocacy, their decisions about how to best represent their constituencies, and the role their race-gender experiences play in their legislative work.
The unique perspective that the Black women in this study share is grounded in their personal experiences with caregiving for the elderly. My central argument posits that Black women perform caregiving in ways that are different from Black men, White women, and White men. Reading the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill through the lens of race-gender identities and experiences complicates identity politics. Here, I illustrate that a race-only or gender-only approach to understanding legislator’s motivation to support this legislation does not take into account the lived experiences of Black women legislators.
Caregiving as a Women’s Issue
Women legislators are expected by activists, voters, and researchers to champion women’s issues—issues that are broadly related to women’s traditional roles as caretakers—and to substantively represent women (p.154) (Reingold 2008, 130). Women’s policy leadership is visible in all areas of the policy-making process surrounding this issue, from bill introduction to committee hearings and floor speeches (Dodson and Carroll 1998; Norton 2002; Swers 2002). Feminist theorists have argued that women’s role as caregivers was developed out of gender socialization (Kessler 2001). As a result, women’s caregiving is a socially determined and gendered activity. Yet, caregiving for the elderly—unlike other types of family caregiving provided by women—is unrelated to reproductive sex differences, meaning that there is no bond of motherhood presumed. Caregiving also places undue burdens—both economic and health—on women. Research has shown that caregiving reduces women’s participation in the labor force (Wakabayashi and Donato 2005), because women have difficulty in maintaining employment if elder care includes providing assistance with the activities of daily living (i.e., bathing, dressing, eating, and using the toilet) and managing the finances of the elderly. The vast majority of disabled elders live in the community and depend on informal (unpaid) help of women close to them (Boaz and Muller 1992).
Many women in heterosexual relationships live longer than their male counterparts. These women take care of their children, husbands, and community while paying little attention to their own well-being (Boneham and Sixsmith 2006). Younger women have been characterized as “women in the middle,” who take on the role of caregiving daughter while still fulfilling obligations to children and their husbands and perhaps also while working for income (Brody 1991, 471–80).
Cultural differences and race-related life experiences may explain why Black caregivers, Black women in particular, express different views on caregiving than their White counterparts (Haley et al. 1996). First, older Black women are valued in their families. This esteem for older Black women is independent of their ability to perform instrumental roles within the family (Dilworth-Anderson and Anderson 1994). Second, Black families may not view the decline of an older relative as important. The cultural value of older individuals does not diminish when his or her cognitive and behavioral functions start to falter (Haley et al. 1996). Yet while African American families readily take on the role of caregiving for elderly family members, research indicates that African American caregivers use less formal support and suffer from higher levels of caregiver burden, depression, and worse physical health than Whites (Pinquart and Sorensen 2005). Data from the Census Bureau indicate that elderly African Americans have more severe functional limitations than do their White counterparts (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1995). However, older Blacks are half as likely to be institutionalized as Whites (Belgrave, Wykle, and Choi 1993). The above-reviewed (p.155) literature details that caregiving for an elderly relative is substantively different within Black and White families.
Examining the caregiving roles of daughters, Mui’s (1992) study of 117 Black daughters and 464 White daughters revealed that Black daughters reported less overall role strain than White daughters. Black women described that while they had fewer demands on them as caregivers, they experienced poorer health and less access to respite support. White daughters, however, faced more work conflict and strained mother–daughter relationships. In their research on the dynamics of caring for an elderly family member with dementia, Lawton Rajagopal, Brody, and Kleban (1992) found that after controlling for socioeconomic status, Blacks were more likely than Whites to believe that caregiving was not a burden. Indeed, Black families reported a unique satisfaction in caregiving and did not find this work to be intrusive, although their White counterparts did. Allen and Chin-Sang’s (1990) qualitative study of thirty African American women found that older women volunteered in caregiving activities in their churches and in senior centers after their retirement. After retiring from mostly domestic and service work, these Black women continued their service to others and themselves, even in their old age. Indeed, Black women report that caregiving for the elderly is expected and continuous because “we have no choice”—expressed as statement but not as a complaint (Haley et al. 1996, 127).
This literature on caregiving and its race-gender elements aligns with the narratives of Black women, which are distinct from those of Black men, White women, and White men in the discourse surrounding the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill. The narratives of Black women in this study resonate clearly with the above-reviewed literature, setting them apart from their racial and gendered counterparts in the Maryland state legislature. I have thematically organized legislators’ articulations of what factors they included in the legislative decision-making process surrounding the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, and the narratives in each theme represent all the different frameworks that legislators used to explain their support for this women’s interest bill.
Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill
Financial exploitation of the elderly takes a variety of forms. A 2009 MetLife study found that the elderly victims of financial exploitation lose as much as $1 million a year, amounting to $2.6 billion in annual losses. The majority of the victims were women in their seventies and eighties. (p.156) Women who need help with health care or home maintenance were twice as likely to be victims of elder financial abuse. More specifically, this study identified the “typical” victim as a White woman between the ages of seventy and eighty-nine, who might be described as trusting, lonely, frail, and cognitively impaired.
The MetLife study found that fraud was committed by strangers, family members, friends, neighbors, the business sector, and by Medicare and Medicaid (MetLife 2009). Perpetrators tended to be men between the ages of thirty and fifty-nine. Lastly, the study found that the dollar losses were highest during the holiday season due to fraud perpetrated by family, friends, and neighbors. While fraud committed by family members and caregivers is more common, the financial losses caused by investments scams are higher. Victims of elder financial abuse suffer the long-term effects of fraud in addition to their immediate financial loss. They report having credit problems, health issues, depression, and a loss of independence. The elderly are also a prime target for financial abuse because they are neither aware of nor fluent in technological advances.
In contrast to the cross-cutting same-sex bill explored earlier in this book, legislators frame the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill as a consensus issue—one that is framed as somehow important to all group members (Cohen 1999, 11). The Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill prohibits a person from knowingly and willfully obtaining—with intent to deprive the individual of the individual’s property by deception, intimidation, or undue influence—the property of an individual that the person knows (or reasonably should know) is at least sixty-eight years old. While this bill does not consider financial exploitation of the elderly as a hate crime, many of the legislators liken this bill to hate crime legislation. This bill was unanimously passed in the House of Delegates (134–0) on March 19, 2009, and the Senate (47–0) on April 7, 2009, and signed into law by Governor O’Malley on May 7, 2009.
Unlike the Religious Freedom and Protection of Civil Marriage Bill, the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill was unanimously supported, becoming law in Maryland after passing both chambers unanimously and being signed by Governor O’Malley. When I asked about the factors that contributed to the legislative decision-making process for the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, many of the legislators who I interviewed drew first from their personal identities, citing his or her personal station in life as a reason why they would support this bill. Others explained that they came to Annapolis to protect the most marginalized, who, in their opinions, are children and the elderly. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the legislators did not view the LGBTQ community as in need of (p.157) special advocacy. I therefore seek to understand which groups legislators believe are worthy of representation and how they make those decisions. All legislators, regardless of gender and race/ethnicity, supported the Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, so I asked legislators to discuss how, if at all, identity mediated their decisions about the representational process. In particular, within the context of our discussions about this bill, I asked representatives whether and how their identities influence what groups they advocate on behalf of.
Rather than highlighting the race and gender of the legislators, I divided their responses into four guiding thematic rubrics: legislators who questioned whether this bill was good public policy, legislators who supported this bill because they themselves are senior citizens, legislators who expressed a personal responsibility to advocate for and protect the elderly, and legislators who currently take care of or have taken care of elderly parents. Again, the goal is to understand how identity mediates representation and how legislators draw from their personal histories when representing their constituents. I present how legislators use their experiences, personal identity, and/or attempt to create good public policy. I examine how legislators articulate their policy positions on a consensus bill—in this case, considered women’s issue legislation—that is designed to benefit a particular segment of the population.
Good Public Policy
Richard Fenno posited that members of Congress have three goals. “All House members, we would argue, try to achieve, in varying combinations, three basic personal goals: reelection, power inside Congress, and good public policy” (1978, 137). Although the Exploitation of the Elderly Bill unanimously passed both chambers, a small number of lawmakers expressed reservations about supporting this legislation. Specifically, they asked whether this bill duplicated existing policy and whether this legislation was a necessity. Driven by their desire to create good policy, some legislators wondered whether the legislation was problematic. It is interesting to note that the legislators who were unsure about the bill did not make reference to their identity or personal experiences. Nor did this group of lawmakers suggest that it was their responsibility to protect seniors as a marginalized group.
A lawyer by training and a former legislative aid to two members of Congress, Delegate Kenya Barnes stated that the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill was “symbol over substance. I like remedies to have substance (p.158) not symbolism. Political symbolism is a big deal here [in the Maryland state legislature].” (Personal interview, March 20, 2009). In her view, this bill added an unnecessary penalty to an already punishable crime. Although she eventually voted in favor of the bill, she reported that she was “against it in concept. I don’t think it’s a hate crime. I actually don’t agree with the concept of a hate crime so much. I believe that a crime is a crime. . . . There is a penalty under law regardless of the motive behind it. If you prosecuted someone for committing a crime and if you are successful, there would be an adequate penalty there” (Personal interview March 16, 2009).
Similarly, a young White male legislator, also a lawyer, reported that he found this bill unnecessary. He echoed Delegate Barnes’s sentiment, saying that the Maryland legislature has been known to pass legislation that criminalizes something that is already criminal based on popular happenings or current events. This legislator noted that “last year a woman appeared on Oprah who survived a vicious attack. After being doused with gasoline from a Sprite can she was lit on fire and left for dead. So last year, a bill was introduced entitled assault by arson, but, arson and assault are already both crimes” (Personal interview, March 13, 2009). He equated the previous year’s bill with the current Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, which he referred to as a “spotlight bill”—legislation proposed to make the point that it is particularly egregious to take advantage of senior citizens who might be vulnerable. However, he quickly added that he is “not averse to passing spotlight bills, particularly ones that Maryland thinks is an egregious crime” (Personal interview, March 13, 2009).
Another young White male delegate, also a lawyer, also indicated that he thought that the bill was unnecessary. This legislator sought to frame his response in terms of his opposition to excessive crime and punishment laws. He added that the legislature heavily criminalizes and penalizes citizens for minor crimes. As a member of the judiciary committee, this legislator felt that there were too many laws that severely punish citizens, making it harder for individuals who have been convicted of crimes to find employment, banning them from federal educational aid, and hindering their becoming active community members. This delegate opined that the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill was unnecessary. “What are we doing here, what are the penalties that already exist? Is this something so that we can pass the bill and feel good about it or is it something we really need?” (Personal interview, March 18, 2009).
Neither race nor gender served as a factor in the legislative decision-making process on this particular bill for these three legislators. Perhaps the fact that the legislators who objected are all lawyers is the more relevant aspect framing their outlooks on the Financial Exploitation of the (p.159) Elderly Bill. Their legal training may sensitize them to the factors that contribute to the legislature’s desire to pass a bill that merely places a spotlight on an issue that has already been criminalized. As practicing attorneys, these legislators may be better versed in current statute and law than other legislators. While these legislators did not couch their remarks in terms of professional identity and training, it is not unimaginable that their legal background provided the impetus for their questioning of the necessity of the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill. Interestingly, only three lawyers—a Black woman and two White men—challenged the necessity for this bill, although there are several other lawyers in the legislature. Regardless, their professional identity played a salient role in their legislative decision making.
While the other legislators I spoke with did not make explicit reference to their professions, this finding points to a difference. The vast majority of Black women and men legislators do not mention profession as a factor in their legislative decision making (Witko and Friedman 2008). While profession or career identity leads to experiences that may influence legislative behavior (Burden 2007), in the case of this bill, I found that the Black legislators in were the least likely to highlight its role in their legislative decision making.
A select number of Black women legislators attributed their support of the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill to their own advanced age. Delegate Cassandra Ross, a Jamaican immigrant and nurse, finds that no one should be exploited and that it is a particularly flagrant offense to manipulate the elderly:
Since I am over the age of 68, I believe that they need to be arrested and fined. They need to be locked up. I don’t think there should be exploitation of any individual. And never mind someone who has worked all their lives and have contributed and paid taxes in the state and in this country, that anyone should come and exploit them of their life earning at the time when they are getting ready for retirement when they most need their funds. (Personal interview, March 19, 2009)
Delegate Bella Campbell, one of the oldest members of the Maryland state legislature, also supports this legislation. “I don’t want anybody to take advantage of the elderly. I am at that point myself. I know how I feel about the whole thing. I’m 81 years old. Don’t try to take advantage of me” (Personal interview March 20, 2009). Similarly, Delegate Estrella Henderson, the (p.160) second oldest African American women in this study, noted that she was in favor of the legislation. “It’s good; I support that [Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill] because I’m going to get old. Really, I’m already old” (Personal interview, March 12, 2009). Similarly, an older African American male legislator noted that he supports this bill because “it’s not controversial and because I’m over the age of 65. This bill could help me” (Personal interview, March 13, 2009). Due to their own advanced ages, the legislators had an explicit understanding of who would benefit from this legislation. Their own identities played a role in their legislative decision making in respect to this bill, an active illustration of how descriptive representation informs substantive representation.
A recurring theme that framed legislators’ responses was their sense of responsibility for taking care of seniors as the most vulnerable members of society. When I asked about the factors in the decision-making process determining their support for the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, the vast majority of legislators made the normative response: that the elderly are a group deserving of political representation. Legislators linked their responses to their personal experiences and identities to explain their positions. Regardless of their race or gender, legislators expressed that they had a responsibility to protect the elderly. This feeling can be attributed to personal connections or moral compass.
Delegate Julissa Moore, a young delegate who grew up in a middle-class Prince George’s County family, said that she supports protective legislation for the elderly because “seniors are our most vulnerable population. We are judged by how we treat vulnerable populations” (Personal interview, March 12, 2009). Similarly, Delegate Keira Miller, who grew up in a close-knit military family, posited, “We will be judged by how we take care of those who can least take care of themselves” (Personal interview March 12, 2009). Senator Imani Hayes, an emeritus professor, commented that she would likely support the bill because
I think we should be doing everything we can to protect seniors; they have protected and provided for most of us all of our lives so whatever we can do, we should. There are a lot of scams out there, especially about this whole mortgage buy-back thing. I think what they are doing is exploiting senior citizens. So, whatever we can do to protect our seniors I think we have the right and responsibility to do it. I’ll be out there doing that. (Personal interview, March 17, 2009)
(p.161) Lastly, Delegate Justine Anderson, who was raised by her religious grandmother, also spoke about feeling responsible for protecting the elderly and pointed to her legislative record, saying “I’ve worked to protect our seniors. I’ve done that since I moved into Prince George’s County—even before I became a legislator. I have worked to protect the elders and those who cannot protect themselves” (Personal interview, March 19, 2009). Delegate Anderson expanded on her advocacy efforts on the behalf of seniors both in her work as a union leader and as a community activist and concluded by noting, “One day I will be a senior and I want to be treated like I treat them. I will definitely vote for that bill” (Personal interview, March 19, 2009). All of these legislators seem to make this both a personal and political issue.
Similarly, White women legislators noted their support for senior citizens. Directly echoing the sentiments of the Black women, one senior White delegate said, “Lawmakers have a serious duty to protect the elderly. We are judged by how we take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Seniors are a vulnerable population. My devotion to human and civil rights has actually increased because of my desire to protect the most vulnerable populations” (Personal interview, March 11, 2009). Similarly, another White delegate repeated her colleagues’ sentiments that the bill was uncontroversial. A member of the Commission on Aging, she declared that she cared deeply enough for the elderly that she had specifically sought out membership on that committee. One long-term member of the Maryland House of Delegates also referenced her personal work with the elderly. She stated, “The elderly are being exploited so this bill is a no-brainer for me. It’s something that we need to do. And I’m glad that I can be resource for the elderly” (Personal interview, March 19, 2009). In sum, legislators of all backgrounds were united in support of the bill.
As a sponsor of the bill, one White woman senator addressed criticisms of the bill, in the process reinforcing her support for this legislation. She said,
We need to be careful that we are not force-feeding the bill and that we balance our end goal with the appropriate ramifications. However, this is not a controversial bill. It’s a good bill. It boils down to this: Human beings are human beings and all deserve to be treated equally as long as they have earned that [based on their] treatment of others. It’s my responsibility to see that the law protects those that cannot protect themselves, those that are vulnerable, and those that may not be treated equally. (Personal interview, March 17, 2009)
This senator was the only legislator in this sample not to explicitly reference seniors as a group that directly needs special advocacy. Her comments (p.162) on equality and the necessity of the law to protect everyone, regardless of their social position, echoed throughout her interview. She concluded that this bill just made good moral sense.
African American male legislators also shared that they believed it was their legislative and moral responsibility to take care of senior citizens. For example, one middle-aged Black man said, “My whole theory in life is that there are two groups of people that I’m very concerned about. That would be the youth and the elderly. The old folks taught us and now we need to protect them. As a political mover and shaker, it’s my responsibility; I have to make sure that I give back something to somebody” (Personal interview, March 19, 2009). Another younger Black male delegate boasted about his strong record for protecting senior citizens and shared that seniors in his district were among the largest demographic of people who had voted to reelect him: “Anything exploiting the seniors—I am going to be front and center making sure it doesn’t happen. Seniors are the ones that helped me get to where I am today. I am heavily mentored by seniors in my community or in my fraternity, my neighborhood, and my church. Seniors know that they have a real voice with me” (Personal interview, March 18, 2009).
These legislators’ protection of the elderly is based on a sense of responsibility to those who had once looked after them. The majority of legislators who I interviewed for this study felt that this bill was not controversial, and I noted no difference in opinion owing to gender, race, age, legislative tenure, or constituency. The legislators all represented the elderly as a group deserving of special advocacy. Black political identity was not deployed in their decision-making processes because this issue was neither implicitly nor explicitly racialized. However, as the next section indicates, this bill is gendered, since women are disproportionately tasked with the role of caregiver, although both men and women legislators expressed their support of this legislation because of their caregiving experiences with elderly relatives.
Some legislators drew personal connections to specific senior citizens—either because they themselves are seniors or were caretakers of elderly parents—making a direct association with the people this bill could help. Several mentioned their family commitments as the reason why they would support this bill. Specifically, legislators who had cared for elderly parents or managed their parents’ finances championed this bill.
(p.163) For example, one White male legislator spoke about feeling a personal commitment to this bill because he had witnessed his elderly mother’s concerns over finances and the tormenting she had endured from her stepson. He shared the story of how his eighty-nine-year-old mother was asked by her stepson to sell her house to him after her husband died. He harassed the legislator’s mother and had tried to pressure her into signing over the house to him. Because of his stepbrother’s harrasment and realizing that his mother was in a vulnerable position after the death of her husband, this delegate decided to put his mother in an assisted living home and protect her savings:
What I did was convert all her assets into tax-free bonds. She had no concept of handling money at all. She thought that she would run out of money before she died. I told her that was not going to happen—that I made sure she was in good shape. From this process I learned that the elderly need attorneys and accountants who will advise them. I told elders that I am there to help them. I’ve seen that within families—in families with stepchildren, that the elderly especially need financial advising. (Personal interview, March 16, 2009)
This delegate was the only male legislator of any race in my sample who said that he took care of an elderly parent, and it is interesting to note that he is the only legislator who reported taking financial responsibility for his mother’s affairs. However, different from the African American women legislators I discuss later in this chapter and all of whom physically took care of their parents, this delegate moved his mother into an assisted living facility.
Delegate Ingrid Jefferson, a product of low-income family in Baltimore, for example, referenced her mother as the reason that she supports this bill. She stated, “I want you to know I take care of my eighty-six-year-old mother. I think the penalties should be as stiff as they can possibly be, in reference to our seniors” (Personal interview March 14, 2009). On her part, Delegate Yasmin Wood’s observation of her father’s deteriorating health led her to support this legislation. She explained, “I am very aware that the elderly change. I have a ninety-year-old father who lives with us. He is not the man he used to be. He needs more help” (Personal interview, March 18, 2009). As a part of the sandwich generation—people who support their children and care for their aging parents—Delegate Wood takes care of her five young sons in addition to her elderly father. Another African American woman senator spoke of how her parents suffered from dementia, leading her to support this bill. Senator Pamela Price, an entrepreneur from a middle-class Baltimore City family, is a former board member for Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Maryland. She opined:
(p.164) I believe victimizing the youth and the elderly is absolutely horrible and the exploitation either one of those extremes because it’s almost the same population except that one has a number of years. The older you get the more child-like you become because you lose your faculties. Both of my parents had dementia and I took care of both of them. I have also seen how people are victimized by [financial] scams on television. (Personal interview March 17, 2009)
These Black women legislators were or are currently are caretakers of elderly parents. None of the Black men or White women legislators detailed that they were physical caregivers to their parents, nor did any of them make direct connections between this bill and their parents’ advanced age. This finding is consistent with studies that indicate that, because of traditional gender roles, male caregivers are fewer in number than women caregivers (Applegate and Kaye 1993; Harris 1998) and the studies that I referenced earlier that point to cultural differences in how Black and White families take care of elderly family members.
Delegate Tanisha Harold, a divorced mother of two adult children, has direct experience helping a family member who had been financially exploited years before the bill was proposed. While lengthy, her story is important to read in its entirety; it explains particularly well the personal connection that she feels to the legislation and how this experience aided in her legislative decision-making process.
That bill is kind of personal. My mom died several years ago. I moved out when I was really young. My mom had a stroke; she was about 72–73 years old. I was one of the only children who would never move back home; but, when she had her stroke my sister and brother had moved in with her and had been living there for years and it didn’t matter to me. The house was paid for and I figured they would figure out how they were going to buy the food and pay utilities and all of that. I knew that they weren’t making a contribution. Once my mom had her stroke she had to come and live with me because my house was all on one floor, she could get her physical therapy. I knew I had physical therapist in my community. Everyone called and wanted to volunteer their help, so, I had the best possible set-up for her. However, as a citizen legislator, I had to go to work. And my sister was not working so she was to come to my house every morning and watch my mom in the morning and I would come home for lunch she would stay until I got home from work, and then my sister would leave. But, she convinced my mother that I was so busy and it was such a huge inconvenience that it was time to go home. I was very busy, but I never let that show or neglected her. She said to me “you never sit down.” That’s because when I get home I have a lot of stuff to do; she decided that she wanted to go home. And my sister took her to an attorney without the rest of us knowing, switched her checking account into my sister’s name, who was unemployed and (p.165) was making no contributions to the household. Once all of this happened, I didn’t know it and my mom was getting progressively worse. My mom decided she wanted to go to a nursing home; she told me but she didn’t tell me why. I told my sister okay, we had a family meeting where all of us could decide, and that is when my sister told me she had power of attorney. I had social services come in to prove my mom was extorted. It was horrible; I still don’t speak to my sister. I just cannot bring myself to forgive her; for years my mother took care of her. So, I know there are people out there that are doing that. I tried and go through the legal system, but, not everyone is authorized—you need power of attorney. I understand that bill. I lived that bill. (Personal interview March 17, 2009)
Delegate Harold’s unfortunate story underscores the importance of legislation such as the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill, which many other legislators articulated but did not have the sort of direct personal experience to render so clearly. Women’s roles as caregivers are often portrayed as conflict free, as moments in which women join together in committed, shared devotion to taking care of the old and sick. Rarely understood is the social, emotional, physical, and economic costs associated with being the primary caretaker or the toll that caretaking takes on families. Delegate Harold’s story illustrates the exhausting “women’s work” of caretaking and how families can be torn apart by the stress of taking care of loved ones.
A feminist analysis of caregiving exposes how the character of extended families and broader communities has been created and maintained by both women’s “first shift” (i.e., paid work) and “second shift” (i.e., housework and caregiving; Hochschild and Machung 1989; Wharton 1994). This labor- and gender-oriented approach illustrates that the work that women do as caregivers is undervalued both by society and in contemporary social policy (Gerstel and Gallagher 2001). While her story may be an extreme one, this delegate believed that government intervention might have halted some of the financial abuse that her mother experienced and alleviated some of the pain that her family experienced. Delegate Tanisha Harold strongly believes that if such a bill had been in place during the time of her mother’s decline, her family might not have been saddled with the additional economic burdens caused by her sister’s exploitation of her mother’s resources.
While caregiving and issues surrounding the elderly are generally considered women’s issues, none of the legislators in this study made an explicit connection to the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill as a feminist or gendered issue. Nor do any of the legislators bring up race or (p.166) use a racialized framework as a factor in the legislative decision-making process surrounding this bill. As I have shown, caregiving can be constructed as both gendered and racialized, and it was surprising that neither gender nor race was incorporated into the legislators’ analysis of the bill. Instead, legislators’ ages, roles as caregivers, and—perhaps in some cases—their professional identities were primed in the discussion of this legislation. While some legislators were able to make specifically personal connections to senior citizens, either because they themselves were seniors, were caretakers of elderly parents, or were mentored by senior citizens, most of the legislators were able to identify whom this bill would help.
African American women legislators appeared in each of the thematic rubrics that articulated which factors influenced the legislative decision-making process in regard to the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill. Interestingly, none of the White male legislators expressed that the responsibility to advocate for and protect the elderly was a factor in their decision-making process. Perhaps because caregiving is a race-gender issue, White men do not view it as part of their legislative purview. Furthermore, only African American men and women stated that their own advanced ages made them more likely to support this legislation. While I interviewed several older White legislators—indeed, all of the White women I interviewed were over the age of fifty-five—the age of the legislator herself was not a salient factor for White legislators in discussions about this legislation. Only three legislators—one African American woman and two White men—expressed concerns about the necessity of the legislation and its usefulness. Black men and White women legislators did not articulate the same concerns. Because Black women are the only demographic group that appears in each of the four thematic categories of analysis, I conclude that Black women may have the most diverse cognitive framework for articulating their support for the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill.
Perhaps the most interesting factor here is the connection between African American women legislators and caregiving. Many of the Black women legislators have elderly parents who live with them or who have lived with them. Indeed, only this group shared that they are or have been their parents’ primary physical caregivers.1 While the legislators did not provide intimate details about their caregiving (e.g., the extent to which they cared for their parents by bathing them, taking them to doctors’ appointments, feeding them, etc.), they did portray themselves as taking active roles in caring for their elderly parents. They did not institutionalize or place their family members in assisted living communities; instead, the (p.167) parent or parents remain in the homes of the legislators and their families. Black women state legislators also do not explicitly disclose whether they control their elderly parents’ finances. It cannot be assumed that they do not manage their parents’ money, but based on the data I cannot conclude that the legislators do have a hand in their elderly relatives’ finances or that the Black women legislators and their families decided that it was more fiscally advantageous to keep the elderly relative at home. For one, the elderly family member may not have medical problems that necessitate that he or she be cared for in a nursing home. For reasons to which I am not privy, these African American women legislators and their families decided to keep their elderly relatives in their homes and to assume a caregiving role.
Unlike the Religious Freedom and Protection of Civil Marriage bill, the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill enjoyed unanimous support in both chambers. While some legislators had reservations—such as a Senator Bailey Smith, who took issue with characterizing all elderly as vulnerable, stating “the part of the bill that is bothersome to me is the designated age of sixty-eight years old as warranting special protection. Some sixty-eight-year-olds are pretty swift—Bernie Madoff being one of them!” (Personal interview, March 13, 2009)—overall, the legislators felt a responsibility to protect what they regard as a vulnerable population. This is a marked difference from the legislators’ views of the LGBTQ community as neither needing special advocacy nor as vulnerable. Seniors, however, are classified as a deserving group because of their status as a vulnerable population. Through no fault of their own and because of declining mental and physical abilities caused by the normal aging process, the elderly are susceptible to abuse. This population is often held in high regard for their past work in the community and for their ability to share tidbits of wisdom with younger generations (Mutran 1985).
In sum, while legislators did not use either a gendered or race-gender framework to articulate the factors guiding their decision-making process on the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill, they did incorporate other politically salient identities. I wish to go farther by arguing that elderly caregiving may, in fact, not be viewed as a women’s issue bill among these legislators. Indeed, both men and women of all races and ethnicities unanimously supported this bill, and none articulated that race, gender, or race-gender were salient factors in their decision-making process. However, because the Black women legislators are most likely to serve as caregivers for their elderly parents, they have a more intimate and hands-on awareness about the beneficiaries of this bill and the consequences of failing to protect the elderly.
(p.168) This supports the intersectional findings that caregiving is women’s work and the idea that it is disproportionately Black women’s work. While not explicitly referencing their identity, Black women demonstrate that their race-gender identities and experiences, illustrative of representational identity theory, influence their legislative decision making on the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill. Thus, representational identity theory assists us in the finding that African American women rely on their race-gender identities and experiences to choose which bills to sponsor and to understand the potential impact of legislation on both Black families and women.
(1) . While there is one White man legislator who may be considered a caregiver for his elderly mother, I make a distinction between him and the Black women legislators who took or take physical care of their elderly relatives.