Content starts here

Paid Leave Would be a Lifeline for Family Caregivers

Taking your aging mother to the doctor shouldn’t cost you your paycheck or even your job.  But that’s the sword hanging over the heads of many of America’s 48 million family caregivers. Anyone doing this labor of love knows how hard it is to juggle work and family responsibilities.  

Driving, shopping, making appointments, managing medications, bathing and dressing, preparing meals, and helping with a wide array of other tasks can easily fill every hour of the day. On top of time, taking care of a loved one who has dementia, physical disabilities, or other age-related conditions also makes demands on people’s energy and emotions – demands that, as the Cleveland Clinic warns, “can easily seem overwhelming.” How can someone do all that unpaid work and hold down a much-needed paying job at the same time?

Yet, that relentless pressure is a fact of life for these dedicated folks. And this isn’t just an issue for family caregivers of older loved ones.  Anyone can end up needing to care for someone. Harried parents may need to watch sick kids or bond with newborns. Individuals deal with bereavement, military deployments, and other disruptions. We need to empower everyone to take care of their loved ones without losing pay. Having more financial flexibility to manage all these heavy demands would be a lifeline.

It’s true – the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 offers some job protection in the form of unpaid leave.  But it’s time to do more.  The answer is clear: America needs to establish a strong policy of paid family and medical leave in the workplace.

Unlike much of the advanced world, the United States does not guarantee paid leave. Most workers must make do without it, which exacerbates inequality and undermines financial security. More than half of our nation’s family caregivers – six in 10 – also hold full-time or part-time jobs. The balancing act is hardest for those with the fewest resources, including low-paid workers, women, and people of color.

“My biggest fear is that I will lose my job due to excessive time off,” said a mother, 51, who struggles to keep up with her paying job while also taking care of her older parent and two kids.

COVID-19 has only added to the challenges of caregiving, posing new questions about the balance between family and working for pay. A recent AARP survey found that stress levels are rising among caregivers who have been working from home during the pandemic but now face growing pressures to return to the workplace. Seventy-five percent expressed anxiety about keeping up with all their caregiving and work duties. More than 40 percent said that if employers cut back on their ability to work remotely, they might need to change – or quit – their jobs. 

In the last year alone, our researchers found caregiving responsibilities caused 53 percent of working caregivers to experience at least one work-related impact due to caregiving, such as taking time off, changing their hours, or working fewer hours.

Over the course of a career, the tug-of-war between responsibilities at home and the workplace can add up and be extremely costly.

Family caregivers with outside paying jobs earn less, save less, and end up with less financial security in retirement than workers who have not provided care. In 2020, Fidelity Investments calculated that a 35-year-old woman earning $75,000 – who takes just a single year out of the workforce for caregiving – could end up with almost $160,000 less in retirement savings after all costs are considered.

It’s not fair.  Caregivers should not be penalized financially for their commitment to family members who need their help, especially when you consider they provide unpaid care valued at $470 billion a year.  And that unpaid care often keeps older Americans out of costly taxpayer-funded nursing homes.

We must do more now to support family caregivers. A key step is to enact a federal law that requires paid family leave.

Under a plan supported by President Biden and the House Ways and Means Committee, most workers would qualify for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, including part-timers, contractors, and the self-employed. Benefits could be as high as $4,000 a month, replacing at least two-thirds of weekly pay (and up to 80 percent for lower-paid workers).

Lawmakers may hash out details, but the underlying goal should be beyond debate: guaranteeing paid family and medical leave is a practical, common-sense step to take in an aging society where more and more people will need care.

It’s an economic imperative to support working caregivers, especially at a time when businesses are struggling to find and keep qualified workers

It’s a way to support families and increase financial security while building a more equitable and sustainable economy for the long term.

It’s about time America stepped up.

Search AARP Blogs