The number of working adults who are caring for both children and parents is on the rise. So is the stress these workers face as they try to deal with the economic impact of taking time off for caregiving. Momentum is growing for states to launch programs that supplement caregivers’ lost wages – and Maine should step up for its families and get on board.

Maine is fertile ground for the growth of the so-called “sandwich generation.” We have 20 percent more baby boomers than the national average, and about 50 more people here turn 65 each day. And the high price of professional care — little, if any, of which is covered by Medicare – means that most older Mainers who need assistance receive it from family members. Women are twice as likely as men to care for an aging or ill parent — whether it’s hands-on (physical care, housework, meal preparation) or indirect (arranging services; helping with finances).

Two-thirds of those caring for parents are employed, and these workers pay a high price in the workplace for taking on more responsibilities at home. They wind up having to miss work, pass up promotions or scale back their hours, researchers have found.

The only other option – taking an unpaid leave of absence, which employers are required to provide under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act – isn’t a realistic choice. The vast majority of workers can’t afford it. In fact, of those who use the FMLA, 10 percent must turn to public assistance to make up for losing a paycheck.

California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island are the only states to address the high price of caregiving head on. They require employers to offer paid family leave for four to 12 weeks, depending on the state, during which workers can receive part of their wages.

The family leave insurance mandate is funded by a portion of payroll taxes, and despite dire predictions, it hasn’t been bad for business. In California, a 2011 study found either a positive effect on worker productivity or none at all. Similarly, New Jersey employers reported if no change in productivity or turnover, according to a 2014 study there.

U.S. workplaces are designed on an outdated model: the worker who earns enough to support a household, including a spouse who takes on all family caregiving responsibilities. This is no longer the norm. It’s time for Maine to recognize this and make it possible for “sandwich generation” workers to care for their children and older parents without putting themselves — and their families — at financial risk.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial was changed April 6 to reflect the passage last week in New York state of a bill mandating up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for most employees.


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