As the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic and a rapidly changing economy, Congress is debating which priorities to include in the upcoming legislative package. While Americans have heard the most about “hard infrastructure” components like job-creating roads, bridges, and broadband, the Biden administration’s proposal includes robust “soft infrastructure” components like caregiving and paid family and medical leave. Despite the media and political labels, the truth is that America is in a caregiving crisis, and nothing is more difficult for working and retired Americans, as well as those caring for elderly parents, spouses, and other loved ones, than balancing caregiving needs with basic financial stability.
Every day, thousands of Americans in every city, county, and state face impossible choices. How do they choose between providing for a family and caring for an elderly relative, a new child, or even themselves when they are sick or injured? Everyone, regardless of political party, socioeconomic status, race, gender, or geography, will need to provide or receive care at some point (and, in most cases, many points) in their lives. Being able to take compensated time off from work makes these major responsibilities and challenges a little less daunting.
Consider Arizona, a state experiencing rapid growth and diversity. It has a large population of older Americans, young families looking for opportunities, veterans and military members, and Latino and Native American families. The lack of a national paid leave policy is a major issue for these organizations. More than 36% of Arizonans are over the age of 50, and one in every five is over the age of 65. In Arizona, the average monthly cost for a home health aide is $4,004, and nursing home care can cost up to $10,000 per month, while the average monthly pay in Arizona is $4,758. The math simply does not add up. Paid leave is essential for families who may not be able to choose paid caregivers – and for many families who would prefer to care for their loved ones at home – to ensure that everyone can age with dignity and comfort according to their preferences.
When Sonia Pizano of Phoenix became ill, there was no doubt in her mind that she would care for her mother. Pizano managed her mother’s care until she died with little time to plan, but it wasn’t easy. It is nearly impossible to juggle work, caregiving, and financial responsibilities for millions of families who struggle with being able to care for their aging relatives – a growing population that is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060.
Millions of families across America – one in every six Americans – struggle to provide care for an elderly relative, and this population is expected to double over the next 20 years. With millions of Americans in the so-called “Sandwich Generation” struggling to provide care and financial support to both children and parents, the lack of a national paid leave policy complicates the balancing act. With a paid leave policy, the 15% of Americans who are financially supporting both a parent and a child – and who currently provide 2.5 hours of unpaid care per day – would not have to choose between providing care and potentially facing financial ruin if illness or injury struck.
As we continue to navigate the pandemic and plan to rebuild our country and economy once it has passed, we are confronted with some harsh realities: a rapidly aging society, rising health-care costs, and a growing shortage of paid and unpaid caregivers. As a result, Americans will increasingly rely on a smaller pool of family and friends to care for them as they age, many of whom are working full- or part-time jobs.
We cannot accommodate these changes unless we change our perspective on caregiving – as a part of the American family experience in good and bad times – and provide the tools that caregivers require, such as an equitable and accessible national paid family and medical leave policy.