The Elderly Problem
From Joong Ang
Aug 12, 2003

By Jong Hoon Kim

Lim, a 74-year-old in Bayside, has been baby-sitting for 8 years. She moved to the United States in 1996, after her husband died, bringing what remained as a fortune.

Life is not easy for her and her daughter in New York City. She invested all the money in a dry-cleaner which her daughter and her son-in-law started, but the business failed; what’s worse, the son-in-law got seriously ill so the family had to consume all their financial resources.

Under the newly enacted law in 1996, which prohibits welfare privileges to new immigrants once available, she cannot get living expenses or medical benefits from the local government. She manages three meals at a senior citizens’ help center, sometimes using food-stamps, and now started to make her living through baby-sitting.

She decided to have a separate place from her daughter, who already has difficulty taking care of her husband. A senior citizens’ apartment complex, to which she applied, did not responded, though. She sighs, “I don’t think I can continue this work, considering my age and health. I hope I can be eligible for any type of senior benefits, living in seniors’ apartment, and getting medical treatment.” She added that she feels her joint-pain whenever she holds babies. She could not have imagined herself baby-sitting before coming to the United States.

One of the Korean elderly organizations reported that many Korean elders work as baby-sitters, and including those who take care of their grandchildren, the majority are raising children.

SungMin Yoon, a social worker from Queens Child Guidance Center, mentioned, “We surveyed and interviewed 51 Korean elders from several seniors’ centers, and found out more than 90 percent of them are participating child-care work in regular basis.” Whereas most American seniors raise kids after legally obtaining parental rights, Korean seniors tend to take care of their grandchildren for busy family, or work in “baby-sitting” without any privileges.

Because the work is free-of-charge, many of these elders are compensated with little or nothing, whereas many American seniors are getting governmental support.

HiHo Kim, from the Korean Counseling Center, pointed out, “whether it’s their own grandchildren or not, it is baby-sitting in a strict sense. Despite being paid with a little gift or petty cash from child’s parents, they cannot plan any type of senior life or apply for a pension.”

He added, “Also, many of them have trouble because of cultural differences and even get involved in a law-enforcement branch for a child-protection law violation.”

According to Yoon’s survey, 80 percent of Korean seniors answered that they want to learn the American way of raising children and get used to the new culture. Korean seniors are not used to living in America and are slow adjusting, only making their baby-sitting work more difficult.

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Translated from Korean by Joo Yeon Lee

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