Geez, I hit a nerve! Thanks to all of you who offered feedback on my last post “Time to Blow Your Mind.” I have been accused of abandoning our caregiving tribe. I remain a passionate advocate for caregivers, both paid and unpaid. But I do contend that it’s time we see caregiving in a broader sense to include family care, and pet care as well as our core mission of caring for vulnerable people.
National Alliance for Caregiving Report
Peg Rosen wrote an amazing report on behalf of the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) entitled “Lessons from the Workplace: Caregiving During COVID-19.” I highly recommend downloading and reading this work, it is fascinating. Rosen documents the struggles of an employed family caregiver and the extraordinary demands that this pandemic has thrust up all our nation’s 23 million employed caregivers. Rosen writes:
As millions fell sick and workers lost crucial supports—school, daycare and eldercare, home health assistance, babysitting grandparents—caregiving became almost everyone’s crisis. Employers couldn’t staff shifts. Employees (largely women) reduced their hours or abandoned jobs in staggering numbers so they could care for loved ones. Workers in their twenties suddenly became responsible for sick and vulnerable relatives.
The Great Resignation
Heather Long, the economy writer for the Washington Post, has been writing about “The Great Resignation” our nation is experiencing. Turns out workers are opting out of low-paying, high-risk jobs that expose them to the pandemic and other workplace hazards. Long points out that many college-educated workers are successfully finding new careers in hybrid work environments thus reducing their risks. However, the ‘care’ workers they rely on, child and elder care, have left their positions thus making all workers less able to return to the workplace.
As the dominoes continue to fall, our orderly work/home life balance is wobbly. In fact, our nation is at a 30 year low of women in the workforce. With over two million women leaving during the pandemic with an overwhelming majority citing ‘care’ issues for their exodus.
Link to Politico article
The NAC report highlights the demographic shift underlying The Great Resignation:
Demographic shifts in this country have also shattered traditional conceptions of who caregivers are. As adults give birth later in life, their children are becoming caregivers at a younger age. A full 25% of caregivers are Millennials between the 25 and 40, adding youth and number to the ranks of “sandwich generation” adults who are simultaneously caring for children under 18 and older relatives. Male caregivers are also growing in number, representing 40% of the 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S. And increasing numbers of LGBTQ and blended households mean that care is being provided to extended networks of friends and “families of choice.”
FMLA does not work in the 21st Century
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was groundbreaking back then. Workers finally had legal protection from employer retribution for taking time off for a medical condition or welcoming a new family member. Fast-forward by nearly 30 years, FMLA fails the needs of today’s workforce. You see, we all proudly display photos of our babies and kids but are less likely to reveal that we are caring for a vulnerable person who may be with Alzheimer’s Disease or a disability. American workers don’t feel the job security to share the overwhelming stress of pandemic life.
Grace Whiting, JD. The President and CEO of NAC, is boldly advocating for workplace changes that cover all forms of ‘care.’ Why? Because time and again, employee benefits targeting employed family caregivers are underutilized. Whiting points out that many family caregivers are not willing to reveal the burden they carry outside the workplace for fear of losing promotions or raises. Families today live under tremendous stress and uncertainty from school closures, community lockdowns, daycare closures, and many other disruptions of pandemic life. FMLA requires life to be predictable and orderly but that is not our reality today.
Care is Infrastructure
Last week I highlighted several amazing movements who are shouting from the rooftops about our broken care system #carecantwait #paidleave #familyvalues@work to name a few. What do all of these, and others, have in common? CARE. That’s right it’s all about caregiving. Caring for newborns, kids, vulnerable people of any age, family pets, and yes, the climate. It is all CARE.
I believe that leveling the playing field so that all forms of care are considered equal will improve the quality of life for family caregivers. Employers are rethinking labor policies like offering flexible work schedules, job sharing, and many other strategies that treat all forms of CARE equally and justly.
Our patron saint of caregiving, First Lady Rosalynn Carter said it best:
“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”