Today, more than 42 million family caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion in unpaid care for their loved ones. The estimated value of the care provided by family and friends in Minnesota is $8.9 billion annually. As the population ages, the number of workers providing care for their aging parents or relatives is on the rise. Family caregivers often struggle to balance work and family care giving responsibilities that can create financial hardship especially when caregivers lose income or have to leave the workforce due to these demands.
Unfortunately, today’s workplaces are often designed around outdated models that assume workers have someone at home to take care of family responsibilities. Changing workplace demographics require us to provide more flexible work place accommodations to family caregivers. AARP’s new report “Keeping Up with the Times” show that:
- One in five family caregivers left the workforce earlier than planned because of having to care for an ill spouse or family member.
- Family caregivers who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose, on average, $304,000 in wages in benefits over their lifetime.
- Evidence suggests assuming the role of family caregiving can significantly increase women’s risk of living in poverty in older age and
- Nearly half of the nation’s employees who took time off from work to care for an elderly relative lost income in doing so.
AARP Supports a Number of Policy Changes to Support Family Caregivers Including:
- Paid Sick Leave For Family Caregivers Nearly 40% of private workers-and 80% of low-wage workers-lacked access to paid sick days. (U.S. Dept of Labor 2011) Last year, Minnesota passed the family caregiver sick leave law that allowed employees with already earned sick time off to use it for expanded members of their family including parents, spouses, grandparents, siblings and domestic partners, and in-laws. This year AARP MN supports legislation requiring all employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees that covers the more inclusive definition of a family member.
- Extending Family Medical Leave (FMLA) Protections For Employees Working at Small Businesses Today, not all employees are protected under the Federal FMLA law. This legislation would extend FMLA protections to employees working at companies with 50 or less employees allowing these workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Again, this legislation would also use the more inclusive definition of a family member including domestic partners, grandparents, parents-in-law, or siblings and create stronger enforcement provisions. Fourteen states provide this additional protection and Minnesota should too.
- Protecting Family Caregivers from Workplace Discrimination Currently, there is limited protection under employment law for family caregivers who experience discrimination on the job. Examples of discrimination include an employee who is fired when he asks to take care of his chronically ill father or an employee who is denied leave when the employer asserts that it is not her responsibility to care for her ailing mother as long as her father is alive. This bill would add family caregivers as a protected class under employment law as is currently done on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability, national origin and age.
- Protecting Spouses from Financial Hardship when Applying for Medicaid Minnesota’s Medicaid Spousal Impoverishment law was designed to prevent the depletion of a couple’s savings when one spouse needs expensive nursing home care. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s law is out- of- step with federal law in how it treats 401k retirement accounts differently from defined pensions by requiring a spouse with a 401K retirement account to spend down these assets to the legal minimum rather than allowing the spouse to convert these assets to income. Without this protection, community spouses may be left with little income to live on for the rest of their life.