Will Aging Be the Great Leveler?

One implication of the conservative arguments against universal paid family leave is a tacit acceptance and perhaps endorsement of structural inequality in our society. African Americans, with just one-tenth the wealth of white families are more likely to be caregivers to their elderly and disabled relatives. Unpaid caregiving contributes at least $470 million to the economy—a clear savings to government programs such a Medicare and Medicaid, among others. To my knowledge, conservatives do not generally acknowledge this very material contribution to the cause of containing government growth and expansion, not to mention the key role caregivers play in making the entire health care system function, by providing 70% of all care.

As a person who cared for my elderly mother for over 20 years while managing my own chronic illness, raising a daughter, and working full-time, I can say with authority that paid family leave would have made me an even more attentive guardian, and productive member of the workforce. It is easy to pontificate about the benevolent mechanisms of the market from pinnacles of privilege, but African Americans like other ordinary working people in this society, too often must choose between work and family responsibilities such as caring for an aging relative. This is especially true of women. That burden is exacerbated by inequality that is the legacy of historic and current discrimination that continues to narrow options in career aspiration and family security.

Opposition to policies like paid family leave that are predicated on one-sided economic arguments do nothing to elevate public discussion of issues such as containing health care costs and managing the rapid aging of our population. Liberals and conservatives alike will have to deal with the agony and stress of caring for loved ones debilitated by the ravages of time. This is an area of shared experience where the discourse should be balanced and if possible, empathetic.  

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