Why Latinos need paid family leave

Why Latinos need paid family leave
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Paola Sierra was just a teenager when she noticed her mother misplacing her keys and forgetting how to perform simple tasks like folding towels at the hotel where she worked. Now nearly 30 years old, Sierra has given up much of her own life to care for her mom, who is living with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She manages the finances of her mother, helps her bathe, and spoon feeds her, all while juggling her own career.

There are 10 million millennials like Sierra providing care to a loved one with a chronic disease, often without access to any form of workplace flexibility or paid family leave benefits. The situation is particularly dire in the Latino community. Recent federal data revealed that only 19 percent of all workers have access to a paid family leave benefit through their employers, and nearly half of Latino workers do not have access to any form of leave with pay. Nearly one in five Latino and millennial workers have reported needing to take leave for family medical reasons, but were not able to do so either because they could not afford taking time away from work or they did not have enough leave time available.

As our reliance on unpaid family caregiving grows, establishing a national paid family leave policy is essential for the health of families and our economy. Without access to flexible work policies like paid family leave, workers find themselves in untenable circumstances when faced with caregiving challenges. They cannot meet caregiving responsibilities while working, but cannot afford to take time off. Unsurprisingly, these tradeoffs are especially difficult for low income households. Families making less than $30,000 are the least likely to receive pay while on leave.

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Of the 40 million family caregivers in the United States, about one in four is part of the millennial generation and 27 percent are Latino, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. On average, these young caregivers are spending the equivalent of a part time job providing care. At the same time, millennial caregivers are more likely than other generations to provide care while being employed. This role, while vital to families and communities, often results in serious hardships at work and at home. It is hardly surprising that nearly half of millennial caregivers reported emotional distress and more than half reported experiencing negative impacts while on the job.

For many, the workplace is a critical wealth building opportunity through both income and employment benefits. A significant portion of workers compensation is derived from employment benefits. When workers do not have access to paid family leave, they miss out on at least $20 billion in wages each year. A high concentration of Latinos are in jobs with little to no access to paid family leave from their employers, stifling their ability to attain financial stability, build wealth, and grow our economy.

Paid family leave is not a panacea for our national care crisis, but it could be a lifeboat for the growing number of workers entering unpaid family caregiver roles, especially in moments of transition, hospitalization, or when professional care lapses. According to a national poll of working family caregivers of people with dementia, more than half who utilized paid family leave benefits reported positive impacts on their ability to provide care and attend medical appointments. More than half of the caregivers who utilized these benefits said it resulted in improved emotional well being. Unfortunately, fewer than half of employed adult dementia caregivers report having access to paid family leave.

Smart economic policies like paid family leave can help millions of family caregivers like Sierra provide quality care and achieve financial stability and mobility, while contributing to our economy. As Democrats and Republicans propose policies to help millions of workers, particularly low income families, in balancing work and family, lawmakers should consider a national paid family leave policy that can greatly benefit the millions of caregivers that both our families and the country depend on.

Jason Resendez is the executive director of Latinos Against Alzheimer’s. Jacqueline Rodríguez is a policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center.