As our nation’s elderly population grows, challenges will undoubtedly increase. Approximately 50% of workers plan to care for an elderly parent within the next five years alone. Caregiving responsibilities are certainly not just a women’s issue, though females are more likely to be responsible for this unpaid labor. Of caregivers taking care of elderly relatives, wives and daughters comprise 67% of that work.
Laws and benefits to support caregiving, however, have not kept up with the need. The current Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12-16 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for employees to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, a sick child, spouse, or parent, or to care for themselves. Although this has made strides to assist families, there are structural flaws. Under the current act, 45% of workers do not qualify and some cannot take a leave of absence without compensation. In response to the unmet needs, several states have enacted statutes that offer some paid leave for families, including Rhode Island and New Jersey. In Connecticut, family medial leave insurance (FMLI) has been proposed to offer such assistance. CWEALF currently co-chairs the Connecticut Campaign for Family Values at Work, along with the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, to support the creation of an insurance system in Connecticut for paid leave.
Below is an interview with Betty* a self-described “baby boomer”, mother, and advocate of social justice issues. She describes the stress and demand of caring for an elderly parent.
Several years ago, my sister and I were caring for our parents. My mother has since passed and I continue to help my father. I feel a great deal of uncertainty due to the uncertainty of caring for an ailing elderly parent, especially someone who has a long-term illness. The associated level of time and energy needed from caregivers to maintain continuity of care was daunting, especially while attempting to sustain employment. As a caregiver, I became responsible for knowing my parents’ medical insurance, medication requirements, medical history, and current symptoms. These were in a constant state of flux, depending on my ailing parent’s care needed and other particular circumstances. The caregiver must tend to each of these needs, often in roles that they have never experienced before. In a matter of weeks, I was saddled with this situation, in addition to the daily family obligations of my spouse and children.
It is difficult to quantify the changes that happen during this period of time. I found myself undeniably linked with my mother; if she was having a good day, I did as well. If she experienced new symptoms then I experienced an increased level of anxiety. Besides the day-to-day emotions of elder care, is the realization that the ailing parent will never recover from their associated illnesses. My family had the added challenge of caring for the other, healthy parent concurrent with tending to the ailing parent. Then, after the death of my mother, coping with my father’s grief at losing a spouse of 62 years, has been another difficulty.
During a time that has resulted in the loss of a beloved member of our family, the additional financial weight was a constant burden. Medical bills and supplementary purchases such as food and medications not covered by insurance, were added to our tight budget while our income remained the same. Giving families financial peace of mind when there are so many issues – emotionally, financially and behaviorally–to deal with, FMLI supplemental assistance would greatly aid those faced with the daunting task of caring for an ailing elder parent.
Adapting paid family leave in Connecticut would supplement the worker during a difficult time and is vital to the maintenance of the inter-generational family structure. FMLI would acknowledge that we live in an aging society that needs to embrace real family issues. Compensating the employed worker would allow children to take family leave without the fear of losing a portion of their salary. The incredible energy, labor, and stress wears down a caregiver; but paid leave would allow families to be able to spend quality time with their loved ones concurrent with financial compensation in the short-term. Realistically, elder care may extend beyond the 12-16 week limitation where care is needed in the long-term. However the benefits proposed would surely alleviate the caregiver’s financial strain in undertaking the arduous task of taking on the responsibilities associated with the care for an ailing parent.
We hope you support this proposed expansion to the current reach of the Family Medical Leave Act. If you are interested in joining the CT Campaign for Family Values at Work, contact Catherine Bailey at email@example.com for information.
 Aumann and others, “the elder care study: everyday realities and wishes for change.”
 Kathleen M. McGarry, “Caring for the elderly: the role of adult children.” In David A. Wise, Ed., Inquiries in the Economics of Aging (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998).
 United States Public Law 103-03. 103rd Congress. First session. 5 February 1993. Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
 Commission on Family and Medical Leave. 1996. A Workable Balance: Report to Congress on
Family and Medical Leave Policies. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of interviewee.
Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a first year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF.