BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

The Unexpected Career

Posted by espressodog on February 3, 2010

Not surprisingly, 61% of unpaid caregivers in the United States are women. A caregiver is anyone who provides basic assistance and care for someone frail, disabled or ill and needing help. Caregiving takes many forms from handling daily activities such as bathing, managing medications or preparing meals, to managing finances, transportation, and grocery shopping. About 44 million Americans provide 37 billion hours of unpaid, “informal” care each year for adult family members, friends, and children in need and a majority are women.

In 2007, the estimated economic value of family caregivers’ unpaid contributions was at least $375 billion, which is how much it would cost to replace that care with paid services. Caregivers provide life-sustaining, necessary and invaluable support, often working long hours and enduring sometimes heartbreaking conditions. What are we doing to support these women and lessen the financial, physical, and emotional burden they face? 

In the State of the Union, President Obama proposed two policy initiatives aimed at relieving the financial burden of caregiving on middle-class families.  One initiative would nearly double the child and dependent care tax credit for middle class families making under $85,000 a year.   Child care costs have grown twice as fast as the median income of families with children since 2000, but the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit has only increased once in 28 years and is not indexed for inflation. Currently, the child care tax credit reimburses 20% of child and dependent care expenses that enable caregivers to work or look for work. That rate will be raised from 20% to 35%. Families could claim up to $3,000 in expenses for one child or $6,000 for two children. The maximum credit for a family with two children making $80,000 a year would increase from $1,200 to $2,100. The administration also proposed to increase the child care tax credit for families making between $85,000 and $115,000 but not by quite as much.

Caregiving should not make women poor, but it does. Women who are unpaid caregivers are nearly three times more likely to be poor and five times more likely to depend exclusively on Social Security. Almost 60% of all caregivers either work or have worked while providing care.  And of those caregivers that hold a paid job, 62% have had to make adjustments to their work, such as reporting late to work or giving up work entirely. One-third of female caregivers leave the workplace altogether, reducing their likelihood of receiving adequate health care benefits, retirement or Social Security income for themselves.

The second initiative prosposed by President Obama would expand support for families balancing work with elder-care, helping caregivers manage their multiple responsibilities and allowing seniors to live in the community for as long as possible. The Caregiver Initiative adds $52.5 million in funding to the Department of Health and Human Services caregiver support programs that provide temporary respite care, counseling, training, and referrals to critical services. The extra funding will allow nearly 200,000 additional caregivers to be served and 3 million more hours of respite care to be provided. It also adds $50 million to programs that provide transportation help, adult day care, and in-home services, such as aides to help seniors bathe and cook,  which eases the burden for family members and helps seniors stay in their homes.

It is important to recognize that the nearly 66 million caregivers are a crucial extension of our formal health care system. Everyone knows about the high cost of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but the cost of taking care of your aging parents at home is not as well documented. Without their efforts, those receiving care would turn to public programs such as Medicaid, their quality of life and health status would decline, and public costs would increase. 

These caregivers play a vital role in helping seniors stay in their communities or at home. But too often they don’t have the support they need to balance caregiving with work and family responsibilities. We must support caregivers so they can continue in their roles.

What you can do:

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