For National Family Caregivers Month, 113 of the nation’s leading researchers on aging, work and family issues sent a first-of-its-kind letter to Congress today urging lawmakers to address rapidly growing demand for care by establishing a national paid family and medical leave policy. Specifically, the experts call for speedy passage of a comprehensive, inclusive national policy like the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act – legislation that would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program. They warn that the financial and emotional strains on family caregivers and older adults who need care will get appreciably worse unless Congress prioritizes workplace supports like paid leave.
“This diverse group of distinguished academic experts from 61 institutions in 25 states and the District of Columbia is speaking out for meaningful paid leave because our country is woefully unprepared for the caregiving crisis that lies just ahead,” said Dr. Jacquelyn James, lead author of the letter and co-director of the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. “For the sake of family caregivers, older workers, their employers and millions of people with care needs, a national paid leave policy that will allow people to care for their loved ones and themselves while maintaining their jobs and promoting supportive workplace climates is imperative.” Dr. James is also a member of the leadership team at the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative.
“With so much at stake for family caregivers and those who need care, it is critically important that members of Congress heed the strong body of research that shows the urgent need for paid family and medical leave,” said Dr. Jennifer Greenfield, assistant professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. “Millions of working people are serving as family caregivers to aging parents and other family members, and they frequently report financial, physical and emotional strain, especially when their jobs and our nation’s workplace policies fail to acknowledge or support their caregiving responsibilities. As they face the compounding pressures of increased expenses and reduced hours at work, caregivers are too often set up for a future without adequate resources to provide for their own retirement and long-term care needs. It is past time for lawmakers to adopt a national policy like the FAMILY Act to help ensure that caregivers can age with dignity and basic financial security.”
The FAMILY Act, which is currently before Congress, would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program modeled on successful state programs. It would be funded through small contributions from both employers and employees and would allow all workers, regardless of where they live or work, to earn a portion of their pay when they need time off to deal with the serious health issue of a parent, spouse, domestic partner or child; to address their own serious health issue, including pregnancy and childbirth; to care for a newborn or newly adopted child; and/or for specific military caregiving-related purposes.
“This powerful and unprecedented call for passage of the FAMILY Act from a broad spectrum of highly respected aging and work experts comes at a critical time in the debate about the kind of paid leave plan our country needs,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which convenes the national coalition pushing for the FAMILY Act. “We applaud Dr. James, Dr. Greenfield and all the signers of this letter for using their voices and unique perspectives to push for a strong paid leave plan that addresses the full range of care needs people have today, especially as we face a tsunami of elder care needs. Any national paid leave policy must provide protections for workers and their families at all stages of life, and the FAMILY Act is the only paid leave proposal currently before Congress that would do so.”
Much of the current debate surrounding paid leave has focused on parental leave, but at least three-quarters of the 20 million workers who take unpaid family and medical leave each year under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) say they do so to deal with serious medical needs of their own or a loved one. And studies show that the need for this kind of leave is expected to grow significantly, especially in some states, according to key economic and demographic indicators. From 2016 to 2030, it is estimated that the population of adults ages 65 and older will grow from nearly 48 million to nearly 73 million, comprising an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population.
At the same time, as demand for care increases in coming years, the number of family members available to provide that care is expected to plummet as baby boomers transition from providing family care to needing it. An aging workforce also means more people will need time away from their jobs to address personal medical issues. Yet, despite these population shifts, only 15 percent of the workforce currently has access to paid family leave through employers, and less than 40 percent has personal medical leave through an employer’s short-term disability insurance program. Only 60 percent of workers are eligible for job-protected, unpaid leave under the FMLA, and many cannot afford to take it.
The researchers sent the letter to Congress on the first day of National Family Caregivers Month – a national awareness month aimed at recognizing and honoring family caregivers and their needs. Currently, 43.5 million people provide care to family members, and more than half of them work full time in addition to caregiving.
Leaders of key aging and caregiving advocacy organizations endorsed the experts’ effort, including from:
“With the number of older adults in the U.S. expected to double over the next three decades, one of the challenges we face as a society is how to support older adults as they live longer and remain active in employment, volunteering, and caregiving. Family caregiving is a key component of our long-term care system, but can significantly impact caregivers’ economic security and ability to remain in the workforce. Paid family and medical leave is more important than ever to support working caregivers and boost economic security for older adults and their families.” – Board of The Association for Gerontological Education in Social Work
“We all want to be there for our families, but our current care infrastructure penalizes us for doing so. Too many people are forced to make the impossible choice between being there for their families, or supporting them – and the brunt of the cost is borne by women and women of color. With half of our nation’s workforce facing the need to care for an older loved one in just five years, enacting paid family and medical leave is an essential component of the care infrastructure we’ll need for a more just and sustainable future.”- Ai-jen Poo, Co-Director, Caring Across Generations
“The Gerontological Society of America is proud to support innovations on family and medical leave policy, such as the FAMILY Act. For decades our members have led the way as researchers, practitioners, and educators developing ways to improve the lives of older adults and their family caregivers. Millions of Americans face the difficult challenge of caring for family members or themselves while trying to keep their jobs and pay their bills. Very few of us have paid family or medical leave, and in many cases direct care workers are not available or are unaffordable. Research indicates that supporting family caregivers enables them to remain productive in the workforce and supportive of their family members in this time of need. Innovations in public policy, like the FAMILY Act, could help ensure that those who must miss work to play the critical role of caregiver may access modest benefits.” – James C. Appleby, BSPharm, MPH, ScD (Hon), Executive Director & CEO, The Gerontological Society of America
“Nearly 44 million Americans are caring for someone with serious health and long-term care needs. We know from the research that these unpaid caregivers can lose as much as $300,000 in forgone retirement income and wages from taking time off work to care for others, especially older adults. Paid family and medical leave protects the retirement income and financial security of our nation’s family caregivers. The FAMILY Act ensures employers can offer much needed flexibility to retain caregivers in their workforce.” – C. Grace Whiting, J.D., Interim CEO/COO, National Alliance of Caregivers
“As the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, the National Association of Social Workers is committed to enhancing the well-being of working families through its work and through its advocacy. We see firsthand the toll it takes on families’ health and economic security when working people have to choose between caring for their loved ones and their financial stability during periods of personal and family illness. That’s why we endorse the FAMILY Act, which would help ensure working families have the job and economic security that paid family and medical leave would provide, benefitting working people, their families and the economy. We are pleased to join more than 100 experts on aging, work and family issues to call on Congress to support family caregivers by passing the FAMILY Act.” – Angelo McClain, CEO, National Association of Social Workers
“At the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), we believe that a national paid family and medical leave policy like the FAMILY Act is critical for Hispanic families, both for those needing and providing care. Hispanic families have a large percentage of older adults, and family caregiving is common. The FAMILY Act would help keep Hispanic workers from having to choose between caring for their own health or the health of a loved one and their financial stability. That’s why NHCOA is proud to join with academic experts on aging this month to call on Congress to support the FAMILY Act as a policy that would strengthen our families and our nation.” – Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO, National Hispanic Council on Aging
“Nowhere is the caregiving crisis more pronounced than in the area of Alzheimer’s and dementia care where the average number of caregiving hours is far higher than for other diseases. And, we know that the burden of caregiving falls disproportionately on women for whom financial security is far from the norm and who are exiting the workforce to meet their care obligations. This will be particularly true in the next decade as the baby boom generation ages and the rate of Alzheimer’s skyrockets. Paid family and medical leave has been successful in a number of states in significantly alleviating those burdens and promoting economic stability. As these nationally recognized experts agree, it's time for a national paid leave policy.” – WomenAgainstAlzheimer’s, a Network of UsAgainstAlzheimers
About the National Partnership
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. Based in Washington, D.C., the organization drafted and led the fight to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act. More information is available at NationalPartnership.org.