After a long, hard battle President Obama has gained a second term as Commander in Chief. We heard from the TV news pundits this election was a turning point in understanding the needs of a changing America. I hope valuing family caregivers becomes part of that change. We need to encourage the White House, Congress and all sectors of society to support those caregiving Americans who represent 80 percent of the long-term care workforce in our country – but how?
We have 65 million caregivers in this country – 1 in 3 U.S. households where 66 percent of all caregivers are women who spend on average 20 hours a week caring for an older or ill loved one. In addition, 24 million Americans are considered Sandwich Generation – squeezed between caring for children still at home and simultaneously caring for an aging parent. And 7 out of 10 caregivers are juggling these family responsibilities while working full or part time.
What we all need to remember is President Obama and our government work for us: we the people, we the caregivers. November is when we elect our officials but it is also National Family Caregiver Month. If you are one of the “65 million” I encourage you to find your voice as a caregiver:
- “I am a caregiver” – caregivers need to self-identify as a caregiver. Collectively as a group we need to develop the mentality that in order to get any attention in Washington you have to have them see you as a force to be considered. AARP and the Ad Council recently kicked off a three-year public service announcement campaign to help caregivers self-identify. If you are interested in understanding how government and state officials are supporting caregivers, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance web site where updates are provided on caregiving legislation.
- Seek support on the job – with the economy in a still-too-slow recovery, we need to hang onto or finally find a job. This is difficult for caregivers since they already have a job – caring for their loved one. However, if you are employed, you need to speak up at work to get your employer to provide support that helps you and their bottom line (through improved health care costs and increased productivity). In a recent report, the Family and Work Institute found 77 percent of employers are offering flex time – an increase from 66 percent in 2005. Ask your employer if this or other benefits for caregivers are available.
- Ask for and accept help – we need to come together as neighbors, friends and communities to help one another. There are numerous ways to volunteer to help caregivers shoulder the burden. Lotsa Helping Hands which powers online communities for caregiver help and volunteerism launched its Year of Helping Hands to Address the Caregiving Crisis to create consistent momentum around caregiver support.
I join the caregiving advocates who encourage caregivers to speak up and let policymakers and other leaders in society hear your voice in order to receive the support and programs so critical to the long-term care in this country. Perhaps we need to start a caregiving political party to get attention like they did in Australia with the Carers Alliance Party. What we can do is vote with our voices to ensure caregivers win support for the future.