Why working caregivers need paid leave

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Most people think of paid leave in the context of new parents who want to spend time with their newborn. But there’s another group of working people who need the support of paid family leave — and that’s caregivers.

By caregivers, we don’t mean parents with children. We’re referring to the millions of Americans who are caregivers for aging parents, spouses, loved ones with disabilities, and any other family members or friends who require additional support and care to live independent, healthy lives.

The numbers are dramatic: there are 65 million people in the US that are caregivers, more than the total populations of California and Texas combined. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, family caregivers provide an average of 20 hours of care per week, and for most, caregiving isn’t limited to a few months, or even a year — NAC’s research found that caregiving lasts an average of almost five years.

These family caregivers, day in and day out, do the incredibly important but undervalued work of caring for aging loved ones or people with disabilities, often with little support.

And when you take into account that 70 percent of all caregivers are working full- or part-time while caring for a loved one, it becomes clear that there needs to be more policies that support working caregivers.

Suzette Brown is one such working caregiver. For five years, she was the primary caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s, while working full-time. Recently, she wrote about the challenges she faced and of why caregivers need paid leave:

“Employers, please – I implore you – have some understanding and human forgiveness for those caregivers that on occasion may need time off from work to care for an ailing loved one. If you have not been in this position yourself, the stress is unbelievable for the caregiver. Please don’t make it anymore difficult for the caregiver. Paid leave would allow caregivers like myself to take time off to care for loved ones.”

Suzette isn’t the only caregiver who would benefit from paid leave. We hear all the time from people who tell us that they feel overwhelmed from trying to balance work and caregiving duties.

Caregivers shouldn’t have to figure out this balancing act on their own.

While more companies and employers are becoming more friendly to caregivers, few employers are offering paid leave of their own volition. It’s still the reality that we need public policy, like the FAMILY Act, in order to make paid leave a reality for working caregivers.

No one should have to decide between their paycheck and caring for a loved one. Passing the FAMILY Act would go a long way towards supporting the millions of caregivers who do the important work of caring for their loved ones.