Let’s try a little experiment: When you close your eyes and think of the word “care,” what comes to mind?
When I close my eyes and think about care, I see opportunity. And no, not because I’m the Founder, Chairwoman and CEO of Care.com, the world’s largest community for families to find babysitters, nannies and senior care solutions.
I see opportunity because care is an economic imperative. Care, for children and adults, impacts every level of our economy. Consider that:
- Care is a $280 billion dollar industry in the United States. That’s as large as the medical devices industry, the gambling industry … even the legal industry, and we’re a litigious society.
- Child care is the single largest expenditure for families; more than $20,000 annually on average according to the latest statistics.
- Family care is the #1 driver of absenteeism and lost productivity at work, costing businesses tens of billions each year.
- If female workforce participation was equal to that of men, the GDP would increase by as much as 9 percent – that’s almost $2 trillion.
So Who Cares?
Our working families are the lifeblood of our economy, but far too often our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for a loved one because we simply do not have the systems in place to adequately support our working families.
It starts from birth.
Only two countries in the world lack federal policies providing mandatory leave for new mothers. Do you know who they are? Papua New Guinea and the United States.
Think about that for a second. The United States is one of two countries that does not provide paid leave for new moms, despite mounting research showing women with access to paid leave are more likely to return to their pre-birth employer, remain in the workforce and earn more and higher wages over time. Even the children of mothers who take maternity leave benefit through better health outcomes and, as one study shows, higher wages once they enter the workforce.
Seventy-eight countries have paid paternity leave policies. But not the United States, even though modern dads are taking more active and equal parenting roles.
Without a federal parental leave policy, it’s left to employers to provide leave for new moms and dads. How’s that working out for us? Currently, less than 15 percent of American employees have access to paid parental leave.
For many families, the challenge grows as children age. The accessibility to and cost of quality child care is an issue that impacts working families (and their employers) to the extent that families from all income levels find themselves tallying the cost of care, taxes and their commutes and calculating whether it pays to work.
It doesn’t stop when the children get to school, either. In fact, for some families, it may not stop at all.
Nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s are in what’s commonly called the “Sandwich Generation,” which means they’re providing some level of care for their children and aging relatives. As a population, we’re on the cusp of a Silver Tsunami, as more people live longer and senior care emerges as a need that could match – if not surpass – child care.
And what about illness? A massive 40 percent of private sector workers don’t have access to paid sick days, which means that millions of hard-working Americans find themselves forced to lose days of pay – even risk their jobs – in order to take care of themselves or ailing family members.
For many families, it comes down to this: They can’t work without care, and they can’t afford care without work.
In a recent survey of Care.com members, we learned that 71 percent of parents have considered quitting their jobs and 69 percent have made career changes due to the high cost of care. That’s consistent with the roughly 70 percent of senior caregivers who are forced to make career adjustments, such as turning down promotions or leaving their jobs, due to family responsibilities.
When mothers and fathers, or adult children caring for aging parents, withdraw from the workforce, their career concessions have widespread impact. They lose out on future job opportunities, limit their earning (and spending) potential and their employers lose valuable human capital and incur costly turnover expenses.
In short, everybody loses.
If the United States expects to remain a global economic leader, then we’d better start catching up – or better still, leaping ahead – when it comes to our policies that support working families. That’s why it’s so critically important that legislation like the FAMILY Act and the Healthy Families Act become law.
And that’s why I announced today, during a speech at the National Partnership for Women and Families’ annual luncheon, that Care.com is proud to support these important pieces of legislation.
The FAMILY Act – short for Family and Medical Insurance Leave – would (finally) create a paid family leave program for American workers. The act would provide 60 days – or 12 work weeks – of paid family leave for all individuals, regardless of the size of their company, to be paid at up to 66 percent of typical monthly wage, funded through small employer and employee contributions administered through the Social Security Administration. In addition to the birth or adoption of a child, workers could use this leave to care for the serious health conditions of a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or even themselves.
The Healthy Families Act would allow employees of companies with at least 15 employees to earn up to seven work days – of job-protected paid sick leave each year. And if they work for an employer with less than 15 employees, seven job-protected unpaid days each year. Furthermore, this leave could be used to attend school meetings related to a child’s health condition or disability – something we know many of our families could really use.
We, at Care.com, are proud to support these important pieces of legislation and when they become law, we’ll applaud our government for stepping up and truly making policies that will help millions of American families. It’s a start. A hugely important and essential start. But for those laws to work, businesses need to step up too … and embrace and enforce these laws, in action and in spirit.
Business and government must work together support working families. We had this conversation one year ago at the White House Summit on Working Families, when President Obama brought leaders from all sectors together to discuss the ways in which we can tackle this great issue of our time. I was proud to be part of that conversation. It was and still is clear, not accounting for the realities of a 21st Century workforce won’t do any of us any good. If we don’t lead on these issues – we will all suffer.
That’s why, we as business leaders, have the responsibility to do what we can to change the culture and design of work so that it recognizes that our employees are whole people – people who will only be more productive and effective if we account for the realities they face at home.
We can do this through putting transition plans in place for new parents taking maternity or paternity leave, and training managers and teams to execute these plans so parents can take their leave with minimal disruption to the workplace. We can work together to provide our employees with the means to find affordable, quality care solutions that work the way our modern workforce does.
From CEO’s leading the way on innovative workplace policies, to managers realizing that they have a responsibility to implement these policies on the ground, we all have a role to play.
For those of you who don’t have children and who are fortunate enough to have sick leave already, you may wonder what any of this has to do with you. Well, you may not be a parent, but everyone is someone’s child. And at some point, your parents will need help or that special senior in your life will be struggling.
So who really cares about all this? Frankly, we all should.