The AARP recently published a report  finding that almost 1.2 million North Carolinians cared for an adult family member, partner, or friend suffering from chronic illness in 2009. The report also found that nearly two-thirds of caregivers are women and that the majority of these women worked at least part-time on top of the unpaid work of caring for their loved ones.
The struggle to manage a caregiving role in addition to a part- or full-time job is nothing new to many women. Nor are the challenges that persist when mothers balance family and work responsibilities. Unfortunately, women with family responsibilities have long navigated workplaces that ignore today’s family structures and responsibilities.
The demographics of our workforce have completely changed in the last century with women’s increased labor force participation and at the same time the definition of family has fortunately evolved to include single parents and same-sex couples. Many workplace policies, however, are still based on the concept of a male breadwinner and assume that there is a stay-at-home wife to take care of family responsibilities.
Now is the time to address this discrepancy by focusing on work-family policy. In these difficult economic times, more parents are working more jobs and more families than ever are relying on women’s paychecks to make ends meet. Nationally, 40 percent of mothers are either the sole breadwinner, or earn as much or more than their partner. In North Carolina that percentage is even higher — 66.27 percent of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners . At the same time, caregiving demands are increasing as the baby boomer generation ages.
What families need are realistic family-friendly workplace policies for the complicated work-family tensions so many of us face. Workers need to be able to afford to take time to recover from illness. New parents and those taking care of elderly family members need to be able to afford to take care of their family responsibilities. And all parents need high quality, affordable child care in order to work.
These are not “perks.” Short-term and extended paid leaves from work in addition to child care subsidies are crucial policies for North Carolina families. They are policies that allow workers to keep their jobs in a struggling economy, something we cannot afford to give up in these uncertain times.