Grandparents provide a critical support system for families – especially in tough times. As caregivers and workers, they are the glue that holds many families together.
Grandparents help with child care, taking kids to the doctor, back-to-school shopping – you name it. Nearly four in 10 grandparents say they have cared for a grandchild in the past year, and an estimated 6.4 million grandparents live with their grandchildren.
As the recession has cost millions of workers, including younger ones with children, their jobs, many have turned to their own parents for help. In other families, parents turn to grandparents for help when they are in the military and stationed overseas, fall ill, or for other reasons. Today, 5.8 million children, nearly 8 percent of all children, live with a grandparent who is the head of the household. That’s the largest percentage in 40 years, up 4.5 million since 2000.
Grandparents are taking on significant caregiving responsibilities. At the same time, many are working later in life. Older workers are staying in the workforce longer because of the economic strain caused by the recession, lost retirement savings and, presumably for many, increased financial dependence from their families. When employed grandparents can’t earn paid sick days, managing their responsibilities at work and home can be close to impossible.
What’s more, grandparents today are not only caregivers and breadwinners; many also need care. Millions of workers care for aging or ill family members. Nearly one in 10 unpaid family caregivers is caring for an elderly parent or parent-in-law. When these caregiving workers can’t take time away from work to help a loved one get to a doctor’s appointment or provide critical care, the health and well-being of our nation’s grandparents is seriously threatened.
This Grandparents Day, what America’s grandparents really need are family friendly policies like job-protected paid sick days. These public policies are vital to their ability to meet their work and family responsibilities and get the care they need, without jeopardizing the economic security of their families. States and cities are leading the way toward a national standard. It’s time for Congress to honor grandparents and all working families by passing the Healthy Families Act.