Caregivers Deserve Similar Support as Military Veterans
Lately there’s been a lot of attention in the United States to efforts to provide support for members of the military who are returning from war. There are programs encouraging businesses to hire these veterans and higher education institutions to enroll them so they can earn degrees. These programs are really important and very well deserved because these people have given a tremendous amount to our country. But there’s another group who deserves our nation’s thanks and additional support once their duty is done – family caregivers who have left their jobs or who are under-employed because of caregiving duties. And quite frankly, this group is getting overlooked.
First, for those who say it’s the caregiver’s responsibility and not something that the country “owes” us, let me put it in dollar and cents on what caregivers are providing to this country. The Congressional Budgeting Office estimated the economic value of caregiving for older adults in 2011 was approximately $234 billion. This amount vastly exceeded the total amount of paid care from Medicare, Medicaid, private pay and other forms of paid care for both institutional care ($134 billion) and home community-based services ($58 billion). “The magnitude of family caregiving dwarfs other public and private costs associated with providing long-term services and supports to people with disabilities of all ages,” said Ari Houser, the senior methods adviser of the AARP Public Policy Institute.Therefore, caregivers who are under-employed or who have left their jobs are actually helping keep this country afloat. If they stayed in their jobs and let the government pay for this caregiving, the country would be financially swamped.
Increasingly, the heavy burden of caregiving is falling on middle-aged women. A New York Times story points out that the number of women between the ages of 45 to 54 who are working has decreased by more than 3.5 percent since 2009. In comparison, the rate of decline for younger women was approximately two percent, with many of those women returning to school or taking a temporary break to care for young children.
The New York Times story points out that many of these middle-age women are taking breaks from their careers in order to care for aging relatives. These women are setting aside professional hopes and also draining their assets while caregiving.
And there’s long-term fall-out caused by these women’s absence from the workforce. One researcher described it as “a disaster” not only for women, but also for the economy because these talented professionals aren’t contributing to economic growth. And while they are out of the workforce, their skills are eroding. When you add in two other factors – elderly people are living longer and companies are not willing to offer flexible schedules – middle-age women are truly caught in the crosshairs. And caregiving also leaves women at risk for depression and anxiety.
Therefore, I believe that it’s time for our leaders to help this group as much as they are helping returning members of the military. And I’m not alone. “Public policies should recognize these contributions and provide greater support for the backbone of our nation’s long-term services and supports system — family caregivers,” Houser stated.
What are some options? Here are some thoughts:
- Embrace public policy solutions to keep caregivers in the workforce. These options include expanding unpaid family and medical leave, paid family and medical leave insurance, and earned sick time.
- Provide caregivers who have been out of a job because they have been taking care of the elderly with incentives to get retrained. Depending on the person, that can mean attending community college, getting professional development from an association or trade-group, or working toward a certification or another degree. A potential template is the Post-9/11 GI Bill that was enacted in 2008 to encourage recent veterans to enroll in college.
- Create a public awareness campaign to encourage employers to hire a caregiver.
Caregiving is often a labor of love, but it does pose a tremendous economic cost to both the caregiver and to the country. Therefore, it’s imperative that policymakers, business leaders and caregivers work together to try to find ways to help these people move back into the workforce once their caregiving days are over.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Feinberg, L. (2013). Keeping up with the times: supporting family caregivers with workplace leave policies. AARP.
Searcey, D. (2014). For women in midlife, career gains slip away. New York Times.
Redfoot, D. (2013). Just how valuable is family caregiving? AARP.