For America’s working moms, there is pretty much an endless stream of resources to guide and comfort them on how to tell the boss they’re pregnant, how to find a private place to pump at work, how to negotiate flex time, how to split the chores at home, and whether or not to display pictures of their kids at the office. They can read all day and all night about the many stresses of working motherhood including pregnancy discrimination, the wage gap, the mommy wars, leaning in, and opting out. But for America’s working daughters, there is little to help them navigate between their careers and the needs of their aging parents.
There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the majority are women. And yet there are very few support programs, formal or informal, in place to support these family caregivers, many of whom are struggling at work and at home. Working daughters often find they need to switch to a less demanding job, take time off, or quit work altogether in order to make time for their caregiving duties. As a result, they suffer loss of wages and risk losing job-related benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits. In fact, a study from MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving calculated women lose an average $324,044 in compensation due to caregiving.
This impact to a woman’s career is significant. Caregiving tends to hit women in their mid-40s, just around the time their earning potential starts to wane and dangerously close to the age when they may not be able to reenter the workforce if they leave. According to a recent New York Times article, the job market is not promising for women 50 and older.
These same women are expected to live well into their mid-80s, and outlive (by about two years) the average man. How will they afford their own care later in life if they can’t save for it at midlife while they are caring for someone else?
By no means is the United States the model for how to treat working mothers. America is, after all, the only developed country that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. But at least there is a national dialogue about the need for affordable childcare and paid parental leave. Elder caregivers are all but absent from the conversation. Sure, paid family leave is starting to be framed as both a childcare and eldercare issue, but many policies only address the working parent, not the worker with parents. Just recently, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, signed an order giving city employees six weeks of fully paid leave but only for the birth or adoption of a child—not for taking care of sick family members. And yet new research from Northwestern Mutual reveals the majority of Americans feel caring for two elderly adults would be more difficult than caring for two toddlers.
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