Monday, July 13, 2009

Struggles of the Woman Caregiver

Read below a blog post authored by our Elder Economic Security Initiative intern, Kristen, on the important topic of caregiving.

Today is the final day of the Fem 2.0 Blogging Carnival on caregiving. This gives organizations, like WOW, a chance to discuss what caregiving is, what role it plays in women’s lives, and what needs to be done to adequately support our nation’s caregivers. As caregiving responsibilities overwhelmingly fall on women, WOW is invested in the need for its recognition as essential work.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently 52 million caregivers nationwide caring for people 20+ that are ill or disabled. Women overwhelmingly assume these roles, comprising between 59% and 75% of caregivers. Caregiving can take a significant financial, emotional and physical toll on those who provide it. On the financial side, many caregivers jeopardize their working lives, and thus their economic security, by working fewer hours, passing on promotions, or leaving the workforce entirely. Few policies or programs are in place to address these challenges.
Here are some measures to facilitate ensuring the economic security of family caregivers:

· Promote flexible work environments with paid sick and safe days to allow for time to be taken off to care for oneself or a dependent relative. Just a little over half of all caregivers remain employed, so job sharing and flexible hours can make juggling work and caregiving more feasible.
· Support the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act of 2009 (H.R. 769). Under the bill, people who provide informal care for 80+ hours per month will receive credit towards Social Security benefits for up to 5 years.

Compensating caregivers is especially important for women to achieve economic security because, in addition to leaving the workforce to provide caregiving, women live longer than men and receive lower wages. As a result, a significant proportion of women are completely reliant on Social Security in retirement.

The national averages of the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) show that Social Security alone is not enough for seniors to make ends meet, although it provides more than 90 percent of income to three out of ten retired elders. For single older women who own their home and have paid off their mortgage, the average Social Security income provides only about 60% of the income needed to reach economic security, and if a woman must rent, Social Security covers just 47% of their needs, according to the Elder Index.

Family caregiving must be recognized by our government and employers as essential work that should be compensated in order to improve women’s chances for economic security throughout their lives.

To learn more about family caregivers in the United States, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance.

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