July is National Sandwich Generation month—a time to recognize the sacrifices made by those caring for young children and aging parents. Many of these men and women must also attempt to hold down a job while looking after their loved ones, a situation that gives new meaning to the phrase “work-life balance.”
Here are a few things to know about this unique segment of the American workforce:
Many caregivers are also employees: Statistics from the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) indicate that about 61 percent of caregivers work either full- or part-time. There are, of course, countless variations on the family caregiver role. Caregivers may provide round-the-clock care for an aging relative who is living in their home; others might make frequent trips to visit their loved one in assisted living; while some have older family members who can live on their own, but still need help with household chores and money management.
Working caregivers make sacrifices: Family caregivers are often forced to make concessions that negatively impact their current and future career prospects. The NAC reports that 70 percent of working caregivers have to alter their job situations to accommodate a loved one’s need for assistance.
Balancing caregiving and a career is possible—up to a point: For those who are holding down a job while looking after a loved one, 14 hours of caregiving duties per week appears to be the upper limit of what is possible to sustain, without dramatically interfering with their career. At 14 hours, most caregivers experienced a minimal effect on their ability to maintain their current job, according to the 2010 MetLife case study, Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs. Any time commitment exceeding 20 hours per week started to have a negative impact on a caregiver’s job situation, forcing them to take time off or scale back their duties.
Many working caregivers are under 30: 2011 Gallup Healthways Wellbeing Survey found that 13 percent of working caregivers are between the ages of 18 and 29.
Working women bear brunt of financial losses: Female caregivers lose about $324,044 in lost wages and benefits as a result of taking on the caregiving role, according to the NAC. The finances of male caregivers, on the other hand, take a smaller (yet still substantial) hit, $283,716.
Helping caregivers strike a delicate balance
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), legislation that was meant to secure 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees who need time off to care for family members or to recover from a serious medical ailment.
Unfortunately, many working Americans aren’t covered by the law, due to several built-in caveats. Currently, the FMLA only applies to companies with more than 50 employees and excludes those workers who have been with their current employer for less than a year (or fewer than 1,250 hours).
Caregivers of the elderly can find themselves further hamstringed by what they can and can’t take time off for. For instance, their care recipient must have a “serious medical condition” such as Parkinson’s, heart disease or Alzheimer’s, and ferrying a loved one to and from a doctor’s appointment isn’t considered legitimate reason to request time away under FMLA. And any time taken is unpaid, leaving many caregivers scrambling to make up for the loss of much-needed income.
There are no easy answers to the legislative dilemma posed by the unique situation of working caregivers. But a new bill created by Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Senator Kirsten Gilibrand of New York might help fill the gaps in the FMLA.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act of 2013 (the FAMILY Act) aims to provide paid leave to working caregivers, without the stipulations regarding company size and length of employment.
The proposed law would create a Social Security-esque federal insurance program that would require employers and employees each to contribute the equivalent of two-tenths of one percent of a worker’s wages per payroll period. Should the employee need to take leave to care for a family member, they’d have access to 66 percent of their normal wage amount (as long as it doesn’t exceed $4,000 per month).
The FAMILY Act was introduced in December 2012 and has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. Provided the bill passes the gauntlet of a ponderous approval process, it could have an important impact on the lives of the working men and women who find themselves squeezed between aging parents and young children.
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