We’re a nation of busy, burdened people. Holding home and hearth and body and soul together during this turbulent time takes more energy than we ever thought we could muster.
Living with the undercurrents of fear, grief, and uncertainty depletes our energy reserves even further.
Coping and decision-making require the incessant usage our time, talents and vigor. You might wonder, how much worse can it get?
Well, if you’re a caregiver to a loved one, it can get a whole lot worse. Your time is halved and your burdens are doubled. Your income and job security are imperiled. Your dreams are submerged and your ability to manage day-to-day is strung to the breaking point. And for all these added worries and responsibilities, you aren’t compensated one penny. In fact, you will most likely deplete your savings and even take on debt to care for a loved one.
According to the latest report from AARP, the number of adults caring for a loved one has increased from 16.6% in 2015 to 19.2% in 2020. About 53 million Americans provide care without pay to an ailing or aging loved one, and they do so for an average of nearly 24 hours per week.
This factors out to 1,272,000,000 (one billion, 272 million) hours per week, and 66,144,000,000 (sixty-six billion, 144 million) hours per year of unpaid caregiving in this country.
Almost one-sixth of the country’s population has taken on the job of caregiving in some capacity. And unless your loved one is a veteran, there is scant financial compensation for doing one of the most difficult jobs any person will ever have to do.
Ask yourself how much it would be worth to you to do the job of caregiving at home if it were compensated. Would $13.72 per hour, which is the median hourly wage for CNAs nationwide, seem fair? Take into account the fact that trained, certified caregivers tend to every bodily function of residents in facilities, including feeding, bathing, toileting, ambulating, and transferring, for eight-to-ten hours a day. If family caregivers were paid $13.72 for the reported 24 hours per week, they would receive $329.28.
That’s certainly better than nothing, but there are caregiving costs that make that amount untenable. Caregivers might have to take time off, cutting back on hours while paying for things like groceries, toiletries and prescriptions. Their contributions to Social Security are impacted, meaning a smaller check in their retirement years.
But there’s some good news. Periodicals are shining a light on this caregiving crisis on a regular basis. Joe Biden, 2020 candidate for President of the United States, recognizes the need. His economic plan proposes $775 billion to expand and improve care for children, the elderly and disabled. His proposal shows a growing recognition that looking after these members of our society is a critical part of the U.S. economy.
“We’re trapped in a caregiving crisis within an economic crisis within a health care crisis,” Biden said.
The plan includes allowing states to scrap their existing Medicaid home-and community-based care service waivers — which allow people to receive long-term care in their homes rather than institutional settings — in favor of a new program with more federal funding. Biden’s campaign also said it would fund the hiring of 150,000 community health care workers. The plan also includes elements aimed at aiding unpaid caregivers who take care of family members, offering them a $5,000 tax credit and Social Security credits.
While tax credits and Social Security credits are a step in the right direction, there’s more of a need for actual compensation. After all, if you can’t work and earn an income because you’re a full-time familial caregiver, a tax credit isn’t going to put a regular stream of much-needed money in your pocket.
But with such a proposal comes the oft-asked question of, Who is going to pay for this? Well, we are. Taxpayers. And current non-compensated caregivers will become taxpayers. Imagine the boost to the economy if those 53 million caregivers were actually paid for the job they’re doing. Putting income in people’s pockets means more spending, more production and more jobs, which will create a greater payroll tax base that will fund (admittedly, to an unknown degree) Biden’s plan for expansion and improvement of a vital segment of healthcare that is currently supported in large part by non-paid family members.
But caregiving for loved ones can’t be looked upon as a volunteer position any longer. The human sacrifice, both for caregivers and patients, is too great to ignore. It must become an integral part of established healthcare practices.
Nothing good has come of the coronavirus. Not one thing. But there is a hint of a promise that areas of healthcare that have been eroded or ignored will get the support and funding needed to expect a better outcome, should we face another such crisis.
Caregiving happens to be important enough to be among those areas targeted for upgrading and improving, and if we give it its due, it will prove to be a cornerstone in building a better-quality healthcare system.