written by
Lucinda Koza

Flexible, Remote Work is the Answer for Caregiver Unemployment Crisis

Articles Thought Pieces Top Stories 6 min read , April 6, 2022
Photographer: Thought Catalog | Source: Unsplash

It’s no secret that unless one has long-term care insurance coverage or personal wealth, someone in the family will be providing unpaid care for them if/when they get sick or begin to age. Even though it’s no secret, it remains largely undiscussed and absolutely unsolved, like a giant pink elephant in the room or a looming socio-economic disaster that many folks in power refuse to see. Perhaps because it mainly effects women, and, moreover, women of color; that’s how it stays a non-priority. However, saying it only effects women is untrue -- this particular failure of infrastructure will effect our entire society. The sickness is in the bones, not the flesh.

I came across this article and, even though I know, intimately, the truth of this headline, it shocked me:

Here’s a summary of the article, written by Abha Bhattarai:

A lack of affordable care for older and disabled adults is keeping many out of the workforce

  • At least 6.6 million people who weren't working in early March said it was because they were caring for someone else, according to the most recent Household Pulse Survey from the Census Bureau.
  • Caregiving is the second-largest factor keeping people out of work, behind early retirements, at a time when job openings continue to outnumber potential workers.

The relationship between caregiving and work tends to be circular

  • People who are already out of work tend to take on caregiving roles
  • And once they do, they are less likely to reenter the workforce
  • Employers are becoming more accommodating to flexible schedules for child care, but not for adult care
  • Child care is tough early on, but manageable as children gain independence
  • With older adults, the opposite is true
  • Once you start caregiving for an adult, you're probably not going to stop until your loved one moves into a nursing home or dies

The pandemic added an extra layer of challenges to the already tenuous arrangements many families had in place to care for aging parents, sick spouses and disabled siblings

  • A growing shortage of workers has made it more difficult to secure outside help.
  • One in 5 workers are balancing paid work with part-time care duties, putting them at heightened risk of resigning, according to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.

Amanda McGee

  • Amanda McGee, 37, lives near Pensacola, Fla., and used up 480 hours of medical leave at her tech job last year to care for herself and her parents before being fired for being unreliable
  • For now, she's living on unemployment benefits, though she says it's been a struggle to get by

Most Americans want Congress to support child care and elder care

  • President Biden has made caregiving an economic priority
  • A version of his Build Back Better Act adopted in the House last year contained substantial funding for caregiving, including $150 billion to expand in-home care for adults
  • The legislation has stalled in the Senate

Financial burdens of caregiving are often debilitating for the lowest-income households

  • Family caregivers say they spend, on average, more than 1-quarter of their annual income on caregiving expenses
  • John Price, 43, quit his job bagging groceries at a Kansas City, Mo., store to care for his 45-year-old wife, who is disabled
  • They've been surviving on her Social Security disability payments of $841 a month
  • Many caregivers, like Price, said they are stuck navigating a patchwork of state and federal rules that determine who qualifies for home-based care and whether family members can be paid for caregiving

Christy Xandrick didn't think twice before leaving her job at an office supply company last January when her mother was hospitalized with covid

  • She moved in with her 86-year-old mother and for months managed her oxygen tank and gave injections to prevent blood clots.
  • When her mother began feeling better in November, Xandick moved back into her apartment in Burbank, Calif., but reentering the workforce took longer than she expected.

At virtually the same time, this was trending on LinkedIn:

“Goodbye office, goodbye 9 to 5 by Ruiqi Chen, Editor at LinkedIn News

The pandemic has given many people flexibility around where they work, but employers should also consider being flexible around when people work. True flexibility, writes Emily Laber-Warren for The New York Times, means letting people control their hours and emphasizing output over timesheets. Asynchronous work that follows individual habits and preferences can boost productivity, creativity and even health, experts say. Night owls could work later in the day, and people who live along the West Coast wouldn’t have to wake up early for East Coast hours.”

We are a society in which work and productivity rule our lives. It’s possible the pandemic forced this ideal to be turned on its head. We were forced, even by law, to be conscious of our health and the health of others over anything else. Our ‘first world problems’ came screeching to a halt. Entire industries, including the arts and even food, faced their own mortality. School became a privilege; travel became a thing of the past. Family caregivers lost any help they had, out of caution, out of fear, out of chaos, out of new mandates. How we care for the ill and aging shot to the forefront of our collective spotlight. At the same time, how we work became an international question mark.

The go-to-the-office 9 to 5 system had already been called into question, especially for millennials or gen z. The careers of our parents, which may have included working at the same company for 40 years and retiring with a very nice package, did not seem to be available to young people as ‘the gig economy’ became more and more present. Companies hired contractors and freelancers. Folks had no health insurance. Articles about burnout and the 4 day workweek started to creep at the corners of society. Climate change exposed the ugliness of the 1:1 car / person ratio in daily commutes.

Without bringing caregiving into the conversation at all, the argument for remote, flexible work is strong. For a society that loves productivity, cutting out an hours-long commute and allowing workers to log hours when they are most comfortable should be a no-brainer. Furthermore, the notion of reducing our carbon footprint, reducing workplace bullying and/or sexual harassment, and improving mental health seem attractive. We cannot ‘go back to how it was before;’ then, history is doomed to repeat itself. We must learn from the near-collapse of society and try to build something that will endure.

To bring caregiving into the conversation: I am one of hundreds I’ve spoken with personally who were basically forced to resign once they became a caregiver. My job was a tech one, even; social media, which can be performed remotely, or at least flexibly. However, I faced military-esque adherence to rules and unforgiving rigidity from leadership. I faced shame and harsh critique for having a ‘personal problem.’ Lack of willingness to allow flexibility is no doubt the reason I became an unemployed, unpaid caregiver - one of millions. Who does this help? The employer faces employee turnover, and the economy loses an incredibly valuable producer.

Goodbye office, goodbye 9 to 5 is change, and change is scary to many; but what can be scarier than the endless nature of a pandemic? We got a taste of societal collapse. Shouldn’t that be enough to spur us into building something better?

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