We Still Have A Caregiving Crisis. Let’s Solve It

An employee should not have to choose between providing care for their family or risking job security.  

Sixty-one percent of caregivers in the U.S. are women. (SDI Productions / Getty Images)

According to a 2020 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving, in 2015 (the last year data was collected), approximately 43.5 million caregivers provided unpaid care to an adult or child in one year. As a supportive caregiver for my 11-month-old niece Makayla and a remote caregiver for my mom, I can be counted in that number.

That same 2020 report also found that 23 percent of caregivers report experiencing health impacts because of their caregiving responsibility and 45 percent have encountered financial stress due to providing unpaid care.

Caregivers—61 percent of whom are women—are dealing with immense pressure, all while having to work to make ends meet. While 14 states now provide paid family and sick leave for workers, many more do not. We need a national federal policy to ensure that workers in all states can take time off to care for their health needs, provide care for a family member, or to bond with a child without fear of losing their job or pay. An employee should not have to choose between providing care or risking job security.  

Fortunately, when I take time to care for my family, I do not have to worry about my job being in jeopardy or the net of my earnings decreasing simply because my family needed me. I am grateful to work for an employer who values the financial, physical and mental well-being of its employees.

After all, employees want to work for employers that prioritize paid time off.

  • A 2017 State of the American Workplace study showed that employees value working for an employer that allows them to balance their work and family responsibilities.
  • Several studies have found that having paid time off allowed employees more flexibility in coping with their work-life responsibilities.
  • Having such malleability increases “employee happiness,” according to the 2023 The Conference Board Job Report

It’s time we admit: Work isn’t working for most people. When work doesn’t work, families become financially unstable and women leave the workforce.

One of my motivating factors to make paid family and sick and safe leave a reality in all states is the intersections between income inequity, gender inequity and racial inequity. And it’s ironic (and maddening) that the very workers who most need access to paid family and sick leave are the ones who have the least access: A 2019 report by the Urban Institute found that employees without paid leave benefits are more likely to have financial hardships and are unable to survive a financial disruption. 

Workers without paid leave provide care to individuals who need it, but they cannot access the care they need. On top of this, they are unpaid twice—once by their employers and again by those they are caring for, who oftentimes cannot afford paid care.

How the U.S. Can Improve Caregiving

So, what is the answer? There are several.

1. There’s No Such Thing as ‘Women’s Work’

We need to stop gendering roles in a way that leads to the devaluation of the work of caregiving. The fact that caregiving has long been seen as women’s work—Black enslaved women, especially—has been a hard cultural norm to shake. An overwhelming majority of caregivers are women, but it does not have to be this way. We need to disrupt the gender associations we have for caregiving roles so that there is not such an imbalance in who is providing vital care.

2. Federal Policy Solutions

We need policies such as the FAMILY Act to regulate caregiving so that individuals are paid for their time. We just commemorated its10th anniversary this week. The proposed FAMILY Act would provide 12 weeks of paid family leave to workers. Now is the time to pass this policy. Voters want paid leave. Recent polling from Paid Leave For All Action found that nearly two thirds (65 percent) of battleground voters are motivated to vote in elections next year by the creation of a paid family, parental, and medical leave program to ensure workers can receive a portion of their wages when they need time away from their job to care for loved one.

I am grateful to be able to support my mom and niece. However, there are scores of individuals who cannot afford to provide unpaid care, especially when it jeopardizes their financial wellbeing.

3. State-Level Paid Leave Policies

We need state governments and federal government to work with employers to prioritize paid family and sick leave for workers. We need to do a much better job of valuing employee health and wellness as much as we do employee productivity. 

Many employers want to provide worker benefits like paid family and medical leave. They simply cannot afford to. This is where governments have to intervene and supplement the costs of worker-retaining benefits. When we have elected officials with access to paid family leave, while their constituents don’t, we see the problem clearly: paid leave is available to those who can afford it; those who can afford to miss work to heal or take care of their loved ones. For those who need it most, it’s expensive, unavailable, and unfathomable.

I implore Congress to focus on this issue in 2024, to make it a reality for workers across the country. Millions are waiting. 

Up next:

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Josephine Kalipeni is the executive director of Family Values @ Work. Family Values @ Work is a movement network of grassroots coalitions in more than two dozen states working to win paid family and medical leave, earned sick and safe days, and affordable, high-quality childcare at the state and national levels.