Where's Our WPA for Caregiving?


Where's Our WPA for Caregiving?

teamwork-606818_640During one of my presentations at “Our Aging Market: Why Businesses Need to Respond,” an event sponsored by Harvard Business School Association of Boston, I spoke about the challenges of working family caregivers. I shared preliminary results of our Working and Caregiving survey. (I'm still collecting responses; please share your experiences as a full-time employee with caregiving responsibilities.)

I shared how those who work a full-time job and provide care to a family member or friend (also a full-time job) often struggle with the question, "Should I quit my job because of my caregiving responsibilities?"

An attendee at the presentation told her story of caring for both parents and in-laws (she has four carees). She recently quit her job because it became impossible to manage caregiving and her career. We then began to talk about this issue (how do you work and care?) as the most pressing one of our generation.

"Where's the WPA for caregiving," I then asked.

How many family caregivers have to leave the workforce? Or, downsize from full-time employment status to part-time? How many use retirement funds for caregiving expenses? According to The MetLife Study of Caregiving: Costs to Work Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring For Their Parents, a family caregiver loses about $304,000 in income and benefits because of caregiving responsibilties. And, that's a 2011 study.

That's a crisis. (Because it's a crisis, I get very aggravated when the response from our government is to simply call for more meetings.)

In 2013, Pew Research Center released research that said about 39% of U. S. adults–up from 30% in 2010–care for an adult or child with significant health issues. In two years, how many more have joined the family caregiver club, the club no one wants to join?

I began working with family caregivers in 1990. I have never ever met a family caregiver who said, "This is a piece of cake--I don't need any help." So, we've got 40% of the population in need of help which, for many, is simply not available.

Caregiving impacts the family, the community and the workforce. It's not a problem between two people--a family caregiver and a caree. The struggles and the stresses affect every aspect of our society.

During the Depression, the government created a program called the Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) to create jobs. Many of our public buildings, roads and highways were built as a result of the WPA. The WPA's initial appropriation in 1935 was for $4.9 billion (about 6.7% of the 1935 GDP), and in total it spent $13.4 billion. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA provided almost eight million jobs. (Source: Wikipedia.)

We need to create jobs and resources for family caregivers. When we create programs and services in our communities, we create jobs. When we have enough help for family caregivers, we keep family caregivers in the workforce. When we create and keep jobs, we keep money flowing into the economy. And, when we keep people employed, we help individuals save for their own future.

If we had a WPA for Caregiving, we could:

  • Build and staff intergenerational day centers for both persons with disabilities, older adults and children. The centers could operate from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, including weekends, and provide transportation throughout the day for its attendees.

  • Add social workers and a Caregiver Resource Specialist to the staff of every local library.

  • Hire local community outreach personnel to check on homebound, disabled individuals like Jersey Call and Check Service.

  • Hire nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to provide weekly training programs for family caregivers at local libraries.

  • Create incentive programs to encourage individuals to become home care workers (like certified nursing assistants). Incentive programs would also reward those home care workers who are responsible and dependable.

  • Develop ongoing training programs for these home care workers to ensure family caregivers can hire from a pool of qualified home care workers.

  • Hire builders to make buildings in our communities (including doctors offices) accessible for both family caregivers and carees.

  • Offer grants to families to hire builders to make their homes caregiving friendly.

  • Provide financial aid to help family caregivers hire the care they need.

The WPA during the Depression built roads. Let's create a new WPA for Caregiving that builds support in our communities for family caregivers.

What do you think?

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