This Labor Day let us remember workers caring for loved ones at home

By JoAnne Ruden

– It’s fitting that we have a day like Labor Day to honor workers for their contributions to our nation’s strength and prosperity. First celebrated in 1882 by a labor union, and declared a legal holiday by Congress in 1894, Labor Day has evolved from a day of honor to the unofficial end of summer. Here in Pennsylvania, our 6.5 million full-time workers celebrate with neighborhood barbecues, family get-togethers and other final hurrahs.

But let’s remember Labor Day’s real meaning and use it as a time to recognize issues facing today’s employees. Among the most serious: working full-time while caring for family members. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), one in six Americans is juggling these two huge responsibilities. For caregivers, there is no day of rest.

From higher levels of depression and anxiety to coping with feelings from despair to apathy, the emotional toll on caregivers is significant. Physical pains such as headaches and back pains are common. Together, the emotional and physical stresses can increase a person’s risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Naturally, there’s a huge impact for U.S. businesses. The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that those with eldercare responsibilities cost employers $13.4 billion a year in excess medical costs. NHPCO found that lateness, absenteeism, employee turnover and loss of efficiency add up to $34 billion in lost productivity. For some caregivers — lost wages, social security benefits and pensions due to dropping out of the labor force to care for a loved one full time averages $143,000. The financial impact is staggering.

The bottom line: Caregiving is a vital business issue. Employers lose productivity and face increased healthcare costs. Employees lose jobs, opportunities for advancement, and in many cases, their health.

Help is available for caregivers. One good source is the Caring with Confidence website: While specifically aimed at hospice caregivers, the site includes information valuable to anyone caring for a family member, particularly those who are managing a career in addition to their home responsibilities.

Without a doubt, working caregivers need and deserve our support. Let’s show them that the selfless tasks they do for loved ones and their diligent work on the job is appreciated, not just on Labor Day, but on every day of the year.