This interview was first published on MariaShriver.com and in the February 2nd edition of The Sunday Paper. Read the whole article there.
A poll released last November, conducted by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and Caring Across Generations, revealed that our country is woefully unprepared for the cost and burden of caregiving at every stage of life.
According to the report, we are experiencing the widespread impact of insufficient support for a nation of caregivers laboring under high financial and emotional stress. A broad segment of American families is desperate for solutions, signaling a major opportunity for candidates to tap into this powerful voting bloc by prioritizing caregiving issues.
We turned to Caring Across Generations co-founder Ai-jen Poo to put the current crisis in perspective and offer advice on how we (and our nation’s leaders) can turn things around.
We have a state of caregiving where millions of families across the country are being pushed, emotionally and financially, toward the edge of a cliff, and they often feel like it is their fault. More of us are needing to find care for our loved ones–whether for our babies as we return to work, for our parents who are living longer and aging at home, or for our loved ones with disabilities–and finding it impossible to do so. The truth is that our decision-makers who shape our policies, and our culture of invisibilizing caregiving, is failing our families. But the time is ripe for change.
As the Baby Boomer generation ages and millennials start to expand their families, we need more care than ever before. Families are struggling with this increased need without increased support. We’re all trying to find good care, if we can afford it, or facing the choice between earning a paycheck and being there for a loved one, which is no real choice at all. And we haven’t prepared for the fact that it could get even harder. According to a recent poll conducted for the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and Caring Across Generations, two in three (66%) Americans have not started saving any money for long-term care.
Being able to take paid time off from work is still a scarce benefit, despite the momentum among advocates. That same poll found that family caregivers spend on average nearly 36 hours providing care each week, that’s almost a full-time job! For the 69% of caregivers who are employed, this is on top of a paying job. It is no wonder that our nation’s caregivers are financially and emotionally burning out at a cost to their own health.
Despite the high cost of care, the professional care workforce struggles to support their own families on the poverty wages they earn. Home care workers earn an average annual wage of $16,200; it’s no wonder we often lose our best caregivers to other professions like fast food or retail. The care workforce–disproportionately women and women of color–is under increasing pressure as the need for their vital work increases, too. Our poll found that 73% of Americans believe there are not enough caregiving professionals to meet the demand.
The good news is that although our families are being pushed to the edge, we can – and are – beginning to push back. Common-sense, sustainable solutions that will work do exist; it’s now up to us to demand them! At Caring Across Generations, we have created a plan for Universal Family Care, which would efficiently support the care needs of every member of our family. It’s simple: Universal Family Care is a public, family care insurance fund, similar to Social Security, which we’d all contribute to, to help us all afford the care we need when we need it, instead of panicking at the most vulnerable times in our lives. It would cover everything from childcare and eldercare, to support for people living with disabilities and paid leave, essentially all the costs associated with caring for our families across generations and abilities.
Fortunately, this issue has bipartisan support and touches every family; 2 in 3 Americans have been a caregiver. It’s time we moved forward on solutions like Universal Family Care, which were developed by caregivers and workers through organizations like Caring Across Generations and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Importantly, Universal Family Care would not only help families, it would rightfully value the women who do the work that makes all work possible. We are ready, and the people we elect to represent us need to feel the urgency of this issue, just as it is felt every single day by those struggling to care for the ones they love.