Sunday is National Grandparents Day, a time to celebrate the millions of grandparents who provide so much for our families and our country. In the first presidential proclamation announcing the holiday in 1979, Jimmy Carter said honoring America’s grandparents was an important way “to strengthen the enduring values of the family.” Still today, we hear a lot about “family values” — but rarely are they reflected in our public policies. This is especially true when it comes to the workplace policies we all need to care for one another without risking our pay or even our jobs.
Our nation’s grandparents are not only treasured members of our families; they also take on significant caregiving and breadwinning responsibilities. Nearly 3.5 million grandparents who live with their grandchildren have paying jobs, and nearly 1.5 million of them are also responsible for the care of their grandchildren. Yet many grandparents do not have access to designated time away from work to care for their own serious health conditions or those of a close family member, including their adult children or grandchildren.
Of course, grandparents need care too, often from family caregivers — adult children, grandchildren or other loved ones who themselves have jobs they need to hold onto. Many of these family caregivers are in the “sandwich generation,” providing care to both older family members and children, and they are especially likely to experience conflicts between work and family responsibilities, especially if their workplaces are not flexible enough to accommodate these responsibilities. As the country’s Baby Boom population continues aging, the need for family caregivers will continue rising while the number of family members available to provide care will plummet.
That stark demographic reality — the tsunami of eldercare needs we are about to face — makes it even more urgent that workplace policies and public policy standards change substantially to ensure that family caregivers have access to essential health and financial supports, including paid leave, when they need to provide care.
Five states and the District of Columbia have adopted paid family leave laws and all but one recognize the importance of the caregiving relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides for unpaid leave, permits grandparents and grandchildren to care for each other when the relationship between them is that of in loco parentis, which is when the grandparent stands or stood in the shoes of a parent to the grandchild.
Ultimately, though, all our grandparents will need care — and all children deserve the care of a trusted adult, whether that person is a parent or a grandparent and whether they are in the workforce or not. That’s one of many reasons that, now more than ever, we need a national paid leave plan that checks all the boxes, such as the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act). We also need a national paid sick days standard, like the Healthy Families Act, and FMLA expansions that recognize the care that all grandparents and grandchildren should be able to provide to each other.
The FAMILY Act would create an affordable national family and medical leave insurance fund that would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave. That includes grandparents who need to take time to seek medical care for their own serious conditions, in addition to people who need time to care for an aging or seriously ill parent. Where grandparents fill in for parents and stand in loco parentis, the FAMILY Act would cover their serious family leave needs too.
The Healthy Families Act would allow working people to earn paid sick time at their jobs. This time can be used to get medical care, recover from a routine illness or help a loved one to do so. Nearly 40 jurisdictions have paid sick time standards in place, but we need the Healthy Families Act to allow workers to access paid sick time no matter where they live or whether their employer provides any paid sick time.
As we honor the contributions of grandparents and older adults who are central to the health and well-being of families and our country this Grandparent’s Day, let’s do more than just tell the grandparents in our lives how much we care about them. Let’s show them by taking meaningful action to advance policies that would actually help them. Let’s remind our elected officials what it means to truly value families. Learn more at SupportPaidLeave.org and PaidSickDays.org.