There is value to what we do. It’s time policymakers recognize that.

Aisha Adkins

There is value to what we do. It’s time policymakers recognize that.

Aisha Adkins

A new job, especially in a field you’re passionate about, is an exciting milestone for many young adults. I started a career in healthcare that I thought would lead to pediatric social work and child life specialty. I had plans for my future and a solid roadmap of how to get there. Those plans were completely upended in 2013, however, when my mother was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia and I left my first full-time job to become her full-time caregiver.

Whenever someone leaves the paid workforce to provide unpaid care for a family member, that person sacrifices many things. Relationships with family and friends. Physical and mental wellness. Financial security. When I became my mother’s caregiver, I immediately gave up my sole source of income and health insurance benefits. While I did my best to remain fully present for my mother, thoughts in the back of my mind loomed large around how I was going to pay off my student loans, pay for doctor’s appointments and essential prescriptions, or even afford to live on my own someday.

I am not alone in my concerns about compensation and my future as a caregiver. This excerpt from a 2020 report from Caring Across Generations best explains why our current care system is unsustainable: “As Baby Boomers age and life expectancy extends, and as working millennials become parents, fewer households can rely on stay-at-home caregivers. The crushing costs and competing life demands make providing care unmanageable for many to handle alone.”

As a younger caregiver who is in her so-called “prime earning years,” falling behind on creating financial stability and creating financial security for the future meant I would be more likely to need to tap into programs and services like Social Security and Medicaid in order to provide for any long-term care needs I will undoubtedly have in the future. This was particularly true considering I no longer had access to comprehensive, preventative health care for myself. I was also beginning to experience the mental and physical stressors of being a caregiver--which are compounded by the lifelong stressors of being a Black woman in a country with a centuries-old legacy of racial and gender wealth inequities.

The word “caregiving” often evokes images of sitting next to the care recipient while they fall asleep to episodes of Perry Mason, occasionally waking them to feed them Jell-O. But caring for someone is work that can include everything from cooking, cleaning, laundry feeding, and bathing to administering life-saving medications, physically transferring a 200-pound person between a bed and a wheelchair, or staying up through the night with someone experiencing dementia-related psychosis. More often than not, caregiving involves all of these things--many of which can occur simultaneously.

As mentally and physically exhausting as it can be to care for a loved one, most family caregivers do so without being compensated. And while a lot of caregivers find it an honor and a privilege to serve in this capacity, you can’t eat honor or pay the rent with privilege. There is value to what we do, and it’s time policymakers recognize that. That is why Caregiving.com created their Caregiver Salary Calculator, a tool that calculates the approximate amount that family caregivers would earn if they were being compensated. After sharing my average number of hours worked, number of miles driven, and average out-of-pocket costs, the Caregiver Salary Calculator created an invoice for $25,520.

Looking at that number, I am struck by two things: First--that is $25,520 per year that I could have been receiving to put toward creating more certainty for my future. Second--only $25k? Who is supposed to survive $25,520 in the wealthiest nation in the world? Thankfully, this is a hypothetical scenario for me as I now have a full-time job for which I am tremendously grateful. But this was not the case for the first eight years of my care journey. This is also not the case for the 2 million care workers--many of whom are Black and Latinx women--who spend their days making sure America’s families are properly cared for while they often remain unable to provide for all of their own families’ needs.

The global pandemic highlighted the vital importance of care work across the spectrum and the unequal burden for Black and Brown womxn to provide this care. Policymakers, journalists, and families of all stripes are all talking about caregiver compensation. If you’d like to join me by adding your voice to that conversation, create your own invoice and send it to your Senator asking them to support efforts to get family caregivers the care and access they need to be there for their loved ones and lead a full life once their time as a caregiver comes to an end.

For more information on caregiver compensation, read Can Family Members Be Paid Caregivers?

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