National Partnership for Women & Families

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Debra L. Ness, President

From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Showing Thanks for Family Caregivers This Month

It’s November – a month many associate with Thanksgiving, the day next week when families and friends across the country will come together to celebrate the things they’re grateful for. But November is also National Family Caregivers Month, and tens of millions of women and men in this country who care for ill or older adults and children with special health needs are struggling because our nation’s workplace policies fail to show them the appreciation they deserve.

At least 43.5 million Americans serve as caregivers for adults over 50 in the United States, and most of them are women. Most also have paying jobs in addition to their caregiving responsibilities. These caregivers inevitably need time away from their jobs to deal with their loved ones’ serious illnesses or medical emergencies. And yet just 12 percent of the workforce has access to paid family leave through their employers, and millions can’t earn paid sick days for more short-term caregiving needs.

Ensuring caregivers have access to policies that enable them to meet their families’ caregiving and financial needs is essential. Forty-eight percent of caregivers who take time off to fulfill their responsibilities at home say they lose income. And the average caregiver over 50 who leaves the workforce to care for a parent loses more than $300,000 in income and retirement savings over her or his lifetime. Caregivers themselves often can’t get the care they need due to limited time and stretched finances.

These challenges and the strain family caregivers face today is especially worrisome as the aging population and our country’s caregiving needs steadily increase. By 2030, the number of older adults in the United States is expected to rise to nearly 20 percent of the population. We also know that approximately 92 percent of older adults today have at least one chronic condition. As a nation, we are simply not equipped to keep up with this reality.

The promising news is that states and cities are leading the way when it comes to enacting laws that support family caregivers, such as paid family leave and paid sick days. Right now, three states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – have paid family programs, and three states and 16 cities have (or will soon have) paid sick days laws. There are also encouraging signs that employers are increasingly recognizing the need for policies that support family caregivers.

But having the support needed to meet work and family responsibilities shouldn’t depend on where family caregivers live or work, or the preferences of their employers. That’s why federal policy standards like the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act are essential. The FAMILY Act would establish a national paid leave insurance program that would guarantee workers some pay when they need time for their own serious illness or to care for a family member. And the Healthy Families Act would create a basic paid sick days standard.

As a nation, we can do much more to honor the heroic work of family caregivers. As many of us spend time with our loved ones and friends next week and in the coming holiday season, let’s remind our elected officials just how important family friendly workplace policies are for the country’s families and our future. Legislation like the FAMILY Act and the Healthy Families Act would give family caregivers and all working families some of the support they need – and the thanks they deserve.


Comments

Submitted by Connie on July 16, 2015
My wife and I are members of the scawdnih generation in a sense. Our 54 year old disabled (from birth) daughter was under out personal care at home until 2010. She is mentally and physically impaired, partially paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair, is incontinent, has ESRD requiring dialysis three times a week and currently lives in a retirement facility where we struggle to get the kind of care she must have to survive. She resists any personal care from almost anyone but me (father). My wife's memory is fading, she has periods of confusion, has vision problems and has lost her sense of taste. We are 78 and are working on plans to provide for our daughter's future. For now, I provide the minimal care required for my wife. I have been diagnosed with leukemia but currently do not require treatments.In spite of our daughter living in an excellent retirement facility, we are still required to help with her care, manage her personal affairs and shepherd her through multiple hospital events every year. Our costs are high our income is limited. We have excellent legal and professional advisers. In spite of all the excellent help, we feel alone in our daily struggles. We worry that we are making the right decisionsLike It: 0
Submitted by joanne armenia on November 25, 2014
There should be paid leave to take care of sick child or elderly parent. Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act is essential in a civilized country. The human benefits in US is for the upper middle class or for the wealthy. When people are wealthy they do not want to pay taxes so they vote down anything for middle class or the poor.
Submitted by Victoria on November 20, 2014
I came across this article in my own search for help. I am 30 years old, am the primary caregiver for my mom with an aggressive cancer on hospice now, and I have never been unemployed and I have paid taxes since I was 16. I am now left to choose between working and taking care of my mom as she passes (given days to weeks) as I work for a start-up with 6 employees that does not have to honor FMLA or leave after bringing in over 400K into the company in the past 10 months. I have worked 10-12 hour days since I started at this company to make up for the time I would need now, which the owners led me to believe would be honored. Which it is not. If I quit now, I am also walking away from 7K in commissions owed. But there are no resources for a responsible working primary caregiver. ANY way I can help change this for someone else, please let me know!

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