The Other Side of Caregiving: Selfless Acts Punished by Zero Contributions to Social Security Benefits

8.July.14

This blog was originally posted on TalkPoverty.org. To read more about Sara’s story, visit RetirementSecurityVoices.org.

UPDATE: Click here to listen to a full recording of the July 8th teletown hall!

80-year-old Sara Moore of Chicago spent years outside of the paid workforce caring for her sick father, and then other family members. She worked hard – in a selfless act of love – and yet all those years of caregiving amounted to zero wages, and zero contributions towards her Social Security benefits.  Consequently, Sara has little savings and receives less than $1000 a month in Social Security benefits, barely enough to survive.

Caregivers like Sara should not have to sacrifice dignity in their own retirement to take care of family – be it an aging parent, a child, or a relative with disabilities.

Today, New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey is introducing a bill in Congress that would address this injustice.  Groups across the country like the Center for Community Change Action, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and others, are rallying around the bill which would provide an earnings credit in the Social Security benefit calculation while an individual is caring for a child under a certain age, a disabled family member, or a senior in need of care.

Family comes first – whether it’s your aging Mom who gets more opinionated every day or the newborn you swear already smiles, providing for your family is not negotiable.  When it becomes necessary to stay home and care for someone then our Social Security system should honor family by taking into account some of that lost time from the paid work force.

We are long overdue to recognize the largely female workforce of caregivers for the time, energy and effort required to care for loved ones outside of the paid workforce.  The hidden cost of caregiving is in the impact it has on working families who have to struggle to survive without a wage.  Millions of Americans like Sara Moore are doing the essential work of caregiving, and that number is growing. A caregiver credit is about honoring the time, effort and love that people put towards caregiving as work.  As more and more people in our country step up to do right by family as caregivers, it’s only right that their work be recognized in our Social Security system through a caregiver credit.

Even in a fractured Congress, Rep. Lowey’s bill should be something that garners supporters from both sides of the aisle.  Every one of us knows someone who has sacrificed to care for a loved one.  It’s time to truly honor those caregivers by lifting up women’s issues, expanding Social Security… and sponsoring Rep. Lowey’s bill.

Burke Stansbury is a National Organizer for Center for Community Change Action.  You can read more about this issue by clicking here to see the white paper co-authored by the Center for Community Change and the Older Women’s Economic Security Taskforce.