Caregiving is not only a labor of love — it is labor. It is work.
Washington, November 30, 2023
When we seek caregivers for our babies at a daycare, we pay the providers. When we hire caregivers for our loved ones at a nursing home facility or home, we pay the caregivers. We place critical trust in those who care for our loved ones. While a family caregiver caring for their loved one may not be on someone’s payroll, it doesn’t mean they aren’t working. In fact, family caregivers are working and do deserve support.
We all know someone who is providing unpaid care. AARP found that America’s 38 million family caregivers provide an estimated $600 billion of uncompensated care – in one year alone.
While there are 38 million family caregivers right now, we should expect America’s caregiving needs to grow as our population continues to age. In fact, there are 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day for the next decade. Not only do we need to build a direct care workforce, as this workforce is expected to grow more than any occupation in the U.S., but we need to support the millions of Americans already performing this work. Our policies must reflect this reality by ensuring we can meet the needs of America’s aging population.
One of the ways we can support family caregivers is by recognizing the financial, emotional and career sacrifices they make. These caregivers might make career decisions that mean forgoing advancement and growth to continue having a flexible work schedule to provide care. It could mean turning down the promotion that demands extra hours at work. Or it might mean leaving work early to take your loved one to their doctor’s appointment. It can mean moving from working outside the home to inside the home, in order to care for your child. All of these decisions have a cost that often accumulates into lost earnings and smaller nest eggs – costs disproportionately borne by women. Researchers from the Urban Institute put a number on these collective sacrifices, finding that women who were born between 1981 and 1985 and provided unpaid care to a family member or loved one, lost an average of $295,000 in employment-related costs, resulting from lost earnings and lower retirement incomes.
While this labor – often performed by women – is not recognized in our formal economy as such, it is clear these workers could benefit from more support by policymakers. These realities are a call for equity-driven policies. When it comes to supporting uncompensated workers, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can better utilize a proven poverty-alleviating tool to change the narrative on what it means to be a worker in our modern economy: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). My legislation, the Worker Relief and Credit Reform Act (WRCR Act), would enhance the EITC, expanding the definition of work to include unpaid caregiving. My legislation is an acknowledgement that being a caregiver shouldn’t push you into poverty. It is an acknowledgement that caregiving is work.
The EITC is an effective tool that encourages work, reduces poverty, and already benefits low-wage workers. My legislation will build on its powerful impact. Too often, Americans are forced to make a choice between working outside the home and being a full-time caregiver. My legislation makes unpaid caregiving pay, while providing these workers with the flexibility to receive most of these funds on a monthly basis. Not only do caregivers forgo promotions or change their career trajectory altogether to accommodate the needs of their loved ones, but they also shoulder additional costs to meet the medical, housing, and care needs of their loved ones. These costs can include paying for home renovations to improve accessibility for their loved one or childcare. These monthly payments can provide a cushion to help pay for transportation costs associated with caregiving or even help offset lost wages. I also have a proposal to improve the Social Security program and recognize more forms of work. My legislation, the Social Security Enhancement and Protection Act, would allow the years a parent cares for a young child to count toward Social Security coverage. There are numerous ways to acknowledge caregivers’ labor.
This National Family Caregivers Month, I want to thank every caregiver. Their hard work strengthens our families and supports the health and wellbeing of millions of Americans with disabilities and critical health needs. We can do more to acknowledge the undervalued and uncompensated work of family caregiving by passing my legislation.