By Becca Verda
Labor Day is a day to celebrate American workers for their success, prosperity and contributions to their country. We’ve celebrated this holiday in the United States since 1896 when Grover Cleveland declared the first Monday in September a holiday. This came after years of citizen protests for workers’ rights and the 8 hour work day. Last year in his Presidential Proclamation, President Barack Obama shared the sentiment of this holiday:
“On Labor Day, we honor the legacy of our working women and men who have played a defining role in the American story and all those who carry forward our Nation’s proud tradition of hard work, responsibility, and sacrifice. From assembly lines to classrooms, across highways and steel mills, American workers strengthen the foundation of our country and demonstrate that our economy grows best from the middle out.”
All workers deserve admiration, thanks and a day to celebrate their own hard work. Unfortunately, not everyone who deserves a holiday from their hard work can have one. Caregivers work 24 hours a day and 365 days a year to care for their loved ones. There are no holidays, there are not time clocks to punch out and there are no 8 hour days.
Not only do caregivers perform backbreaking, emotionally exhausting tasks every day, they bear a huge economic burden for our country. Caregivers to people with dementia alone provided an estimated 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care in 2014. This work is valued at $217.7 billion but never produces a paycheck.
So many caregivers, like those we celebrate on Labor Day, are part of the middle class. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s Facts and Figures report 41% of caregivers report household income of $50,000 or less. Caregiving takes its toll as well. About 40% of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers suffer from depression and in 2014, due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, acquired $9.7 billion in additional health care costs of their own.
Caregiving is hard work, but when it’s done on behalf of a loved one the rewards can be huge. Anita Harvey was surprised by the joy she found in caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s, “…something amazing and unexpected happened. With the help of my sister, hired caregivers, and constant oversight, Mother was able to live independently for many years. Despite her illness, she was reasonably happy.”
Caregivers like Anita are continuing the labor tradition of self-advocacy by speaking out for their rights and legislative support. “I hope to lend my voice to those who have lost loved ones to dementia, and join the conversation on how our healthcare system can be changed to better serve dementia patients and their caregivers” says Anita, and voices like hers are being heard.
The National Alzheimer’s Project Act is a federal effort to change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s and dementia care through input from public and private advisory councils. In 2013, Idaho approved a State plan to address Alzheimer’s with feedback from advocates like Anita. Washington State is giving caregivers a place to voice their concerns and needs to influence the Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. On September 4, 2015 the first draft of the Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer’s was made available to the public and the working group has opened comments and input from the public.
Caregivers are part of the legacy of hard work, responsibility, and sacrifice we celebrate every September. This Labor Day, celebrate the caregivers you know. They deserve thanks, recognition and a day off.
Learn how you can support a caregiver here and follow our blog for more of Anita’s caregiver story next week.