One thing employers, insurers, business groups, aging policy specialists, agents, consumer groups and others need to work on is to keep the pressure to be in two places at the same time from tearing family caregivers and other caregivers apart.
On the one hand: Hoping for anything to get better in the area of informal caregiving over the next 50 years may be about like hoping death and taxes to go away. Maybe, realistically, all we can hope for is that most of the frail and disabled older people we put out on the sidewalk have an awning over their portion of the sidewalk.
But, on the other hand: It seems as if there might be low-cost ways to improve unpaid caregivers’ lives if we acknowledge that many have jobs, that it’s hard to keep jobs, that it’s often hard to use and enforce time-off laws, and that decent, loving caregivers often have no practical choice but to put their jobs first.
This topic came up recently, when I was talking to a caregiver about a complicated caregiving situation. In this situation (many details changed to protect privacy), a mom has a 10-year-old son in New York state who often has allergy attacks.
The son has a severe attack about once a month. Whenever that happens, and the basic treatments the school nurse can provide don’t work, the mom has to take off work to take the son to the emergency room. Of course, some variation on that story affects American working people caring for loved ones of all ages millions of times each week.
So, yes, we have to be practical. But, on the third hand: Burning out informal caregivers out, and threatening their ability to sustain themselves, is not very practical.
Here are some ideas for improving that situation:
Employers and society need to make a point of telling managers that letting workers use employer time-off programs to deal with family caregiving emergencies is a good thing to do. If employers really can’t afford to give workers the time off, then we have to set up more realistic family leave rules and programs that have some connection with reality. But, if some managers are resisting use of family caregiving leave simply because they don’t like it: Society can’t afford that kind of resistance any more.