Op-ed: Caregivers deserve livable wages

June 22, 2021
In The News

School-age children are often taught the phrase “caring is sharing.” But caring is so much more. It is essential to our individual well-being. And it is vital infrastructure to our communities’ economy.

Our caregivers have immense influence on our childhoods, and, as many of us age, a different set of caregivers will heavily affect our quality of life in our later years. The in-between years often involve taking care of our own children, an older neighbor or our own parents.

The U.S. has never truly had a solid child care or long-term care policy. That must change. Child care is essential to children’s safety and well-being, but having a parent stay home full time is a luxury that many families cannot afford. Child care requires child care workers. And without child care workers, parents cannot fully participate as employees fueling the American economy.

When child care is unavailable, women are most likely to take up the slack. The same is true for caring for an adult child with special needs or an aging mother with Alzheimer’s disease. This unpaid work often overwhelms the caregiver timewise and makes full-time employment impossible. The result is an average loss of 33% of income for the caregiver. And that was in 2016.

Sadly, despite the significant importance of caregiving in almost every person’s life, the caregiving role comes with little respect in our society. Historically deemed as “women’s work,” paid caregivers — from child care workers to home care workers — often toil away full time while receiving an unlivable wage. This leaves many of those that who care of us unable to take care of their own families.

According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, there is an expected need of over 4 million additional caregivers by 2028. Simultaneously, nearly 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and somewhere between 50%-70% of those who reach age 65 are expected to need some long-term services and support. Americans are living longer, which is a wonderful thing; but, without support for paid and unpaid family caregivers, America is in trouble.

 

So what are we to do?

Let’s start with caregiver pay. Would you be willing to take a job that pays just $12 an hour and likely does not come with benefits? What if that job involves physically challenging work such as helping someone get out of bed and showering?

We must start paying a livable wage to those who care for us. Yes, the price tag may be larger, but it will be better for everyone long term. If the wages and benefits are better, people will be willing to work in this field, which will decrease the workforce shortage. It will also ensure that fewer people leave the workforce to provide care for someone simply because there are not enough caregivers available.

Thankfully, for the first time, we are seeing action to do just that. Through the American Jobs Plan and the presidential budget, President Joe Biden has committed to investing $400 billion into Medicaid home and community-based services and creating good-paying caregiver jobs. Likewise, President Biden’s American Families Plan and budget have committed to ensuring that no family spends more than 7% of their income on child care. These proposals are game-changers.

Second, we must value unpaid family caregivers by offering compensation in acknowledgment of the economic contribution they provide to society. As a co-chair of the House Democratic Task Force on Aging and Families, I am proud to be a co-lead on the Americans Giving Care to Elders Act. The AGE Act will provide up to $6,000 in nonrefundable tax credits to individuals who provide unpaid caregiving to a family member, a partner’s family member, or even a spouse.

One cannot live off acknowledgment alone. Caregiving is essential, and worthy of the development and financial infusion necessary to build itself into an economically viable career opportunity. Care infrastructure is infrastructure. Our nation will crumble without it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Jan Schakowsky represents Illinois’ 9th Congressional District.

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