Family and Medical Leave Act
In 1993, President Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a law tied to more than 200 million women and men who have taken the time they need to tend to loved ones or manage their own health concerns without the fear and worry of possibly losing their jobs. This has been especially valuable for Hispanic families. While the Department of Labor reports that the Hispanic women’s share of the labor force has doubled over the last 20 years, the National Hispanic Council on Aging has found that concurrently the average Hispanic caregiver—a female in her 40s—will spend 37 hours providing assistance to an older adult on a weekly basis. Hispanic caregivers face challenges that are not faced by the general population, including dedicating more time and energy to helping older adults with everyday activities to maintain comfortable lives in an environment that is oftentimes intimidating and difficult to navigate due to language barriers, cultural differences, and a lack of appropriate resources to which to turn in times of need.
As Dr. Yanira Cruz, President & CEO of NHCOA stated, “Living longer is a gift, but with it comes concerns, not just about health, such as chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, but also about rising health care costs. Many of these issues have Hispanic families turning to each other even more for physical, emotional and financial support.” Hispanic caregivers are the backbone of the Hispanic aging community. Many Hispanic older adults are dependent, in one way or another, on the assistance from a caregiver, to maintain a dignified quality of life in their golden years. The signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act was a safety net for Hispanic caregivers who needed time off from work to care for older adults who had fallen ill, support their family members recovering from serious health conditions and medical procedures, and even care for themselves.
The Family and Medical Leave Act continues to be an essential resource for Hispanic families. Research conducted by Brandeis University reveals that there is still progress that needs to be made in terms of access that Hispanic working families have to the FMLA. According to the university’s data, 52 percent of Hispanic working parents born in the U.S. have access to benefits of the act, whereas only 27 percent of foreign-born Hispanic working parents are eligible. This disparity between foreign and U.S.-born employees calls for increased action for inclusivity, which is something that should be explored further by assessing FMLA eligibility criteria that requires workers be employed at a firm with at least 50 employees, have worked at least 12 months at that firm, and have also worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months at the firm. We need to make sure we are supporting our working caregivers and family members who have dedicated so many hours to provide the assistance, care, and comfort that older adults need to live their best lives.