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It's past time to recognize and value caregivers

Two of my uncles were cared for by in-home caregivers. This precious service allowed them to stay in the homes they loved and maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.

Around 90 percent of the 4.6 million professional caregivers in the U.S. are women, and 61 percent are people of color and immigrants.

Those home health and personal care aides make a median annual wage of just $27,080 or $12.80/hour, and many of them live in or near poverty.

My husband is a unicorn: a highly unusual white male caregiver. When I got laid off from my last job and started my own business, he began this new career. With 20+ years as a stay-at-home dad and a long history of forming friendships with aging adults, he had outstanding qualifications to start.

He cares for four elderly men ranging from 75 to 99 years old. They suffer from failing eyesight, heart problems, depression and mental illness, and Lewy Body dementia, in addition to other conditions. In addition to taking care of these men, he cares for and helps the family members, offering their unpaid family caregivers respite. Not only does he support their physical health, but he also contributes to their positive mental health by lifting their spirits as best as he can. He’s supported one client so far into death.

99-year-old man with a couple standing behind him at a birthday party
At the 99th birthday celebration of one of his first and favorite clients, Jerry (photo used by permission)

With a master’s degree from Oxford, he could have looked for a writing job or something that allowed him to use his brain more, but this career has become a calling. For the low pay and tough conditions caregivers receive, it’s got to be a calling.

This week the National Domestic Workers Alliance and partners are hosting the Care Workers Can’t Wait Summit in Washington, D.C. They are highlighting the extreme shortage of care workers, difficult working conditions, and poverty wages. They’re also advocating for union representation, which could improve their working conditions significantly. Caregiver rights are an economic and social justice issue.

Tshirt that says "Caregiver" in "Friends" logo font, with subtitle: I'll Be There For You"
Tshirt given to my husband from some dear friends

During the pandemic, these caregivers donned masks and other protective gear and went to work offering a lifeline to their isolated clients, often without being able to take any time off. One of my husband’s clients got COVID again recently, so back went on all the protective gear once more. His dermatologist has diagnosed “mascne” on his face because of wearing a mask each day for several hours.

younger woman caregiver caring for an elderly woman, both in masks

By 2028, the professional caregiver industry is expected to have 1.1 million new job openings because of our aging population. Annual turnover is around 50 percent because of the difficult working conditions.

Here are a few things you can do to support professional caregivers:

  • Has your life been touched by a professional caregiver? Express your support this week and regularly. Tell them how much their work has meant to you.

  • Show support for the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights legislation by contacting your elected representatives. Share your own stories of how caregivers have improved your family’s lives.

  • Check out all the ways you can help on the National Domestic Workers Alliance website, including local actions.

  • Follow Care in Action, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to fighting for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States, most of whom are women of color and immigrant women.

Yesterday, the Biden Administration announced the most comprehensive set of executive actions ever taken to improve affordable care for families while supporting care workers and caregivers. He declared April to be Care Workers Recognition Month.

When my husband shares stories of what he does in his job, I call him a saint...I don't think I could do it. His clients love him. I am so proud of his contributions and grateful for caregivers everywhere who care for our most vulnerable populations.

Three caregivers wearing masks making the heart sign
Caregivers rock!

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