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Image: Walters Art Museum via Google (CC by 3.0)

Image: Walters Art Museum via Google (CC by 3.0)

by Karla A. Erickson

For those of us who are already adults in 2015, we are most likely to die due to multiple chronic conditions in old age. Our lives will be longer and our deaths will be slower than our distant ancestors, our parents, even those who were born just a decade earlier than us. From a labor perspective, our longer lives and slower deaths require many more days, months and years of assistance. Enter the ever-growing labor force of workers I call end-of-life laborers.

The “grey tsuanami,” as some scholars call it, is coming, whether or not we are ready. The United States, like many similar nations, is on the brink of a care crisis. We’ve faced teacher shortages in the past, but our focus in the coming decades will necessarily shift all the way to the other end of life. As scholars of labor, we need to prepare to inform the coming re-direct of attention, labor, policy and practice that will accompany the grey tsunami.

Average life expectancy has risen by 30 years in the last 100 years. The benefits of what I call the longevity dividend are not equal. White females born in 2010 are expected to live almost 4 years longer than their black male counterparts. More than half of the babies born in this decade in advanced industrial nations are expected to live to be 100.

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