Submitted by Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO
National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA)
Prepared for The Hearing on the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015
Dear Honorable Members of the Council:
As President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), I thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. As the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers, NHCOA is a strong supporter of Paid Family Leave. Hispanic older adults and caregivers are a vulnerable population, but the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 can help them age in better health and with a bit more economic security. During this testimony, I will first briefly describe the status of Hispanics, then I will discuss some of the reasons why the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 would be so beneficial, and I will conclude by telling the story of a Hispanic older adult whose life would be changed for the better by having paid family leave.
Hispanic older adults face substantial challenges to aging in economic security and in the best possible health. Limited education and English-speaking ability, combined with a lack of financial literacy means that many Hispanics enter old age with little in the way of savings. In 2014, 23.6% of Hispanics lived in poverty.i Without Social Security, this number would be more than doubled.ii Additionally, Hispanic older adults are more likely to rate their health status as “fair” or “poor” than the general population of older adults.iii They are also less likely to receive the preventative care that can keep small health issues from becoming major complications. Overall, 80% of Hispanics lacked health insurance in 2014. Without access to preventative care, many entered old age already in poor health.iv
Hispanics are hard workers, and this strong work ethic does not decline with age. Hispanics have one of the highest labor force participation rates.v They are overrepresented, however, in low-paying, physically-demanding jobs that offer little in terms of health benefits or paid sick days. When you are living paycheck to paycheck, a medical emergency can quickly lead to financial devastation. We particularly want to keep the wage replacement rate for the lowest paid workers at 90%– which is already a bare minimum of affordability.
Washington, D.C. and its Hispanic population need the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. Many of the health and economic barriers that Hispanics face could be lowered by access to paid family leave. This policy would encourage the use of affordable preventative health care and keep workers healthy so that they don’t develop conditions that are expensive to treat. Paid family leave will help intergenerational households by allowing adult children to take time off to care for their parents. The public health benefits of paid family leave will also be particularly beneficial for older adults, as they are most affected by illness.
Each year, NHCOA travels the country to listen to the needs and perspectives of Hispanic older adults. The people we meet are grateful for their jobs and the opportunities for success that those jobs provide. As intergenerational households become more common, the conflicts between the need to go to work and the need to stay home to care for a loved one increase. Last year, NHCOA met a worker whose father has Alzheimer’s. After hearing about our efforts to promote paid family leave, the worker stated that such a policy would allow him to take time off from work to focus on giving his father the care he needed. I also met a 59-year old agricultural worker from Texas. She had multiple chronic conditions like diabetes, but could not afford to take the several weeks she needed at various times to manage those conditions. Paid family leave would have given her a better chance to prevent the worsening conditions she has today. There are thousands of people just like her in DC. The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 should come to a vote and be passed for them.
i De Navas-Walt and Proctor, B., U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-252, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 2015.ii Torres-Gil, Fernando et al. The Importance of Social Security to the Hispanic Community. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, 2005.
ii Torres-Gil, Fernando et al. The Importance of Social Security to the Hispanic Community. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, 2005.
iii Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. AgingStats.gov. Accessed at: http://www.agingstats.gov/Main_Site/Data/2012_Documents/Health_Status.aspx
iv Smith, J.C.., and Medalia, C., U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-253, health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2014, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2015.
v Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2014. November 2015. Accessed at: http://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/cps/labor-force-characteristics-by-race-and-ethnicity-2014.pdf