This past week marked International Women’s Day, a global day to celebrate gender equality. It also made me think of the more than 50 million family caregivers (75 percent of whom are women) and the sacrifices that caregivers often make when it comes to their own care.
Just this week, AARP shared some interesting data—millions of unpaid family caregivers provide 36 billion hours of care annually valued at $600 billion. Again, many of these caregivers are women who have left the workforce or reduced their hours due to their caregiving duties. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, women lose an estimated $324,044 in wages, pensions, retirement funds, and benefits due to caregiving.
Being part of the invisible workforce of caregivers is a role I’ve grown accustomed to over the last year-and-a-half, as I spend my nights in a long-term care facility with my grandmother. Being part of this workforce has also opened my eyes to the current caregiving crisis in this country. And being part of this workforce has illuminated the cracks and taught me that if we don’t take action now for caregivers, this country (and our loved ones) will be in serious trouble in the not-too-distant future.
Our current model of caregiving is unsustainable—for facilities, for families, and for the most fragile members of our population. Yet, it’s an issue that’s only relevant to those in its grips. You begin to see the glaring holes in our policies once you are in the midst of the tsunami, and you’ve drained bank accounts, sold property, hired attorneys, and given every piece of yourself to a system that is broken and doesn’t value your sacrifices or contributions.
Pouring over the data on International Women’s Day was heartbreaking—not only because of my current reality—but also because of what I know it will mean for others in my generation and those behind me. If we really want to care for women, we need to help them care for themselves while caring for others.