When my mother was diagnosed with brain tumors and given four months to live, I did what most of us would do if we could. I, along with my sister, temporarily moved 1,200 miles to take care of her for the remaining months of her life. Fortunately, both my sister and I were self-employed at the time. I could do some, but not all, of my work remotely. I still had to cut back to part time and reduce my income, but I was able to do that and had a supportive partner back home.
Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times writes, “Even though women have always done most of the caregiving, both paid and unpaid, it’s never been just a women’s issue.” She notes that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of family caregiving and the fragility of our caregiving systems, along with the economic impact of our lack of national caregiving policies. She notes that Joe Biden, in speaking about his experience as a single father, has emphasized that caregiving is not just a women’s issue. It is a refreshing and striking change to hear a male politician speak from the experience of a single father in support of new national caregiving policies which he plans to implement if he is elected president.
Miller notes that “nearly everybody cares for family at some point”:
- In two-thirds of married couples with children, both parents work.
- Nearly half of adults in their forties and fifties are caring for both children and parents.
- The United States is the only developed Western country that does not support working parents with national policies for paid family leave or subsidized childcare.
In another article, Miller notes that among the reasons caregiving policies have not been a priority in the United States is that Americans have conflicting feelings about whether women should work. She also notes that caregiving is an economic issue for four reasons:
- Research from the Center for American Progress shows that universal pre-K immediately increases women’s labor force participation.
- High-quality early childhood care and education shrink racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps and prepare workers for the future.
- The care sector is the fastest-growing employment sector and one that cannot be replaced by automation. The care sector can become a pathway to the middle class if care work is valued and respected and if care workers receive a living wage, benefits, and the ability to unionize.
- Unpaid family caregivers could receive tax credits and social security credits to make it possible to choose to care for family members.
Now is the time to truly value families and caregiving. Let’s hope that change comes from this pandemic to right these wrongs.
Photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash