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Sara . Chicago, Illinois

Care for the Caregiver

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Sara will be 80 years old next year. She lives in Chicago, Illinois. Sara worked her whole life, starting out as a waitress in her teens in her hometown of Petersburg, Illinois. She then went on to work in administration for the Illinois Humane Society and Onward House for about ten years. After that she worked at a company that made jukeboxes for three years and then a law firm for about ten years, and later worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Over the course of her lifetime, Sara took time out of the paid workforce twice to care for family members. The first time was to stay home with her two children when they were infants. Later on, after her father had several strokes, she became his primary caretaker and ended up taking 10 years out of the paid workforce to care for him. While Sara was taking care of her father in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they lived on just $300 a month – her father’s Social Security check.

After her father passed away in 1987, Sara became a paid caregiver with a homecare agency that worked with AIDS patients. She went on to get a certificate as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). This work was very rewarding, very challenging, and very low-paid. She worked for several years taking care of AIDS patients, until the end of her career when she got cancer and could no longer work.

Despite spending over thirty years in the paid workforce, and being the primary unpaid caregiver for her  ailing father and her children, Sara now receives a Social Security benefit that is just $953 dollars a month, or a meager $11,436 a year, leaving her Social Security benefits below the poverty line for 2013 ($11,490 for a  single individual). Sara was married for seven years, and therefore does not receive a spousal benefit. It is very hard for Sara to make it on her Social Security benefits, her main source of income. Without support from her two children and food from the Lakeview Pantry and Catholic Charities, she does not know how she would make it through. As is, she can rarely buy fresh vegetables and fresh fruit, which she loves; and she never buys steak or candy bars, which she cannot afford.