I have spent my life in the shadow of people who have lived more than I have.
My grandma was 92 when she died. She taught me how to make the perfect chocolate cake and about facing the world with grace and dignity no matter what happened to you.
My great-grandmother lived to 98. She rebuilt broken dolls as a hobby that was much more an art, and radiated a strength as blinding as her perfectly maintained diamond-white hair.
My mother would take me to volunteer at the nursing home where she worked when I was in junior high. A delightful centenarian with a sparkling laugh and blind blue eyes would tell me stories about growing up without cars and electricity.
I learned journalism on the job from a woman with iron-gray hair who could tell you every legislator Pennsylvania ever had. I learned AP Style from a business manager who would savagely red-pen the stories in other papers with the kind of glee that said she would have been a great reporter if that had been an option in her day.
There was a precious lesson in every day I spent with all of them, even if I didn’t always appreciate it at the time.
And that is why we cannot be sanguine about the age group most at risk from coronavirus.
Our oldest demographic isn’t expendable. They are history and they are wisdom. They are a repository of life experience that we can’t just resign ourselves to losing.
That’s the warm, fuzzy side of me talking.
Now here’s the cold, calculating side. We can’t afford to lose our seniors.
Today, coronavirus deaths stand just over 1,000 in the United States. Projected estimates put the potential death toll in the U.S. at 200,000, according to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and upward, depending on different studies and different responses along the way.
That is a staggering number of people, but admittedly far smaller than the 3.2 million who applied for unemployment, according to the most recent figures since massive shutdowns to reduce spread of covid-19. But we cannot balance a death against a job like they are equal because they are not — for purely economic reasons if nothing else.
We have a large population of those in that older, at-risk category. But they aren’t a surplus population. They are still an important part of our economy.
The younger and healthier side of that one catchall 70-plus demographic are paying rent, shopping for groceries, taking vacations and spoiling — sometimes even raising — grandchildren.
The older, more medically fragile portion are an industry of their own, and it’s a big one. Market research firm Freedonia Group pegs the elder-
care service industry as generating $388 billion in revenue in 2021. That figure depends, in part, on the size of the aging population.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made comments this week that seemed callous in their shorthand, that seniors would sacrifice themselves for the economy.
“Let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it,” Patrick said. “And those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”
The problem is that while Patrick falls in that demographic and presumably can take care of himself, a lot of others cannot.
My mom will be 70 in July. She is a cancer survivor and has asthma. She is a fighter and a worker and will tell you at length that she will probably never get to retire from her job taking care of people older than her.
I am still learning from her. We all can.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lori Falce Columns | Opinion