The ongoing national debate surrounding remote and hybrid work during the COVID-19 pandemic has largely focused on commuting, convenience, and childcare. However, the critical issue of caregiving for elderly or disabled relatives has been overlooked, leaving a significant gap in the discussion. According to caregivers and their advocates, it is crucial to recognize the demands faced by the 53 million Americans who provide care to their loved ones.
Aida Beltré, a 61-year-old caregiver from Fort Myers, Florida, found solace in working remotely during the pandemic while caring for her 86-year-old father, who had experienced a series of strokes. Initially working from home for a rental property company, she was able to manage her caregiving responsibilities effectively. However, when she was required to return to the office full-time in 2022, the situation became overwhelming. Although Medicaid covered some home care hours, it was insufficient for her father’s needs. Faced with the choice between her job and caring for her father, Beltré made the difficult decision to quit her job to prioritize her father’s well-being.
The lack of attention given to caregiving in the remote work debate is a missed opportunity, according to caregivers and advocates. While taking time off to care for a newborn is generally accepted and understood, the same level of understanding is rarely extended to caregivers looking after elderly or disabled relatives. The stigma surrounding caregiving needs to be addressed, and a culture should be created where it is normalized, much like the birth or adoption of a child.
The lack of a national long-term care policy, a viable long-term care insurance market, and paid family leave exacerbate the challenges faced by caregivers. While President Joe Biden acknowledged family caregivers in his State of the Union address and issued an executive order to support them, comprehensive financial support will require congressional action.
Employers can play a crucial role by offering workplace flexibility, but it is not a substitute for broader systemic changes. However, more employers are realizing that flexibility in remote or hybrid work arrangements helps attract and retain workers, particularly in a competitive labor market. The shift toward remote work during the pandemic has challenged the notion that certain jobs cannot be done remotely, and employers should expand policies to accommodate various caregiving situations.
For caregivers like Aida Beltré, a combination of remote and hybrid work would provide the flexibility needed to care for their loved ones while remaining engaged in their careers. Recognizing and supporting caregivers is essential to create a society that values the immense contributions they make and provides them with the necessary resources to fulfill their caregiving roles.