Jina Ragland, Advocacy Director, AARP Nebraska

AARP, the nation’s strongest voice for people age 50 and older, has endorsed legislation to help provide Nebraskans with the workplace flexibility they need to care for their loved ones without putting their jobs and finances in jeopardy.

LB 311, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, offers paid leave to Nebraska workers to care for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition, a new child, or a military family member preparing for or returning from deployment.

Nearly two in three family caregivers in the workforce are caring for a relative age 65 or older, and that number is expected to grow as the state’s population ages, an AARP spokesperson told members of the Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee at Monday’s hearing on LB 311.

“Increasingly, the workplace will include more employees who need to combine eldercare responsibilities with their jobs upon which their economic futures depend,” said Jina Ragland, advocacy director with AARP Nebraska. “The practical reality is that many workers are struggling to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to take unpaid leave.”

Research shows that intensive caregiving is often associated with early retirement, giving up work entirely, reducing work hours or taking a less demanding job. As a result, Ragland said, many caregivers must use their retirement savings to support their everyday needs and to help pay caregiving expenses.

On average, income and benefit losses borne by family caregivers age 50 and older in the U.S. add up to a staggering $304,000 over a caregiver’s lifetime.

“They lose salary, personal retirement savings, future Social Security and retirement benefits, career opportunities and suffer from the financial strain of lower income later in life,” she said.

About 196,000 Nebraskans provide 182 million hours of unpaid care to loved ones valued at $2.5 billion annually. The vast majority have been in the workforce at some point during their caregiving experience, with more than half of employed caregivers in the U.S. older workers over the age of 50.

Ragland reminded lawmakers that these family caregivers are the backbone of Nebraska’s long-term care and home- and community-based support system. They help make it possible for older adults and people with disabilities to remain at home and stay out of long-term care facilities.

“We need to be mindful that most of us are, have been or will be a family caregiver or will ourselves need the help of a loved one to live independently in our lifetime,” she said. “LB 311 recognizes this reality with a paid leave option for Nebraskans needing time away from work to attend to their urgent caregiving responsibilities.”