[Excerpt] This report focuses specifically on the challenges facing the millions of working people who provide unpaid and often informal care to elderly friends and family, and the policies we can enact to support them. While these caregivers are not always at the forefront of our minds, they play a vital role in enabling millions of seniors to continue living independently, and they help defray the costs of paid or institutional care. In fact, the economic value of informal care for elders was an estimated $234 billion in 2011, more than institutional and community care combined, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
But this care often comes at an additional price for caregivers who are also trying to manage working outside the home – personal and professional costs that may be hard to quantify. When you find out that you’re going to have a new baby, your friends may throw you a party; you know that they are there to provide support and help. Contrast that with when your mother breaks her hip or your dad gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – you may feel alone and overwhelmed by the sudden need to provide care.
While children gradually become less reliant on their parents, aging parents often become more reliant on their children. And as the level and intensity of the care they need increases, so does the complexity. It is also difficult to predict or estimate the duration of care an older person may need. Caring for an aging loved one often includes assisting with everyday activities like monitoring finances and keeping up home maintenance, but those activities are often not covered by leave laws that focus on medical care.
These factors make eldercare uniquely challenging when trying to balance a career and other obligations, like raising one’s own children. Fortunately, there are ways to support working people who are navigating these questions and hurdles.
The policies we outline in this report are not new ideas, but they are still rarities for too many working Americans. Paid family leave, paid sick time, scheduling flexibility and predictability, and protections from caregiver discrimination would all help families better weather various storms – whether financial, personal, or professional.