Washington, D.C. — A new survey from the Center for American Progress finds that nearly one-third of people in the United States have taken time off from work to take care of chosen family for health-related reasons. The finding is part of the first nationally representative study on “chosen family” and its relationship to workplace leave policies, assessing how people in the United States take time to care for loved ones with health issues to whom they are not related by blood or legal ties. Currently, fewer than 20 percent of households reflect what is traditionally thought of as the “nuclear family” model, pointing to an urgent need for paid leave policies that support all kinds of families, including chosen families.
Chosen families form when two or more otherwise unrelated individuals develop a deep and significant personal bond akin to the bond that often exists between family members related by blood or legal ties, such as marriage or adoption.
Filling a gap in knowledge on this subject, CAP worked with GfK SE Group to design and field a survey of 1,864 individuals in January 2017 about various life experiences, including the need to take time off to care for friends or chosen family members.
Key findings on chosen family and caregiving from the survey include:
- Nearly one-third of people in the United States have taken time off from work to take care of chosen family for health-related reasons.
- Across many racial groups, age groups, education levels, and income levels, and among people in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas alike, people are similarly likely to take off work to take care of chosen family members, including 28 percent of people who are active military or veterans.
- LGBT individuals and people with disabilities are more likely to take time off to care for chosen family:
- 42 percent of LGBT individuals report doing so, a significantly higher rate than non-LGBT individuals (31 percent).
- Among people with disabilities, 42 percent reported taking time off to care for chosen family, compared with 30 percent of people without disabilities.
“Policymakers’ failure to recognize the realities families face has led to policies that have, at best, neglected the needs of millions of American families and, at worst, actively marginalized and separated families. The need for paid leave is dire and will require more than lip service,” said Katherine Gallagher Robbins, director of family policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP.
“A lack of access to paid leave can be devastating for individuals with chosen family – with increased risks for financial hardship and increased inequality – and LGBTQ people and people with disabilities may be hit the hardest. If President Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump are serious about paid family leave, then they would support policies that include all families, not just ones that look like their own,” said Laura E. Durso, vice president of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at CAP.
The paid leave policy that President Trump touted during his campaign, which offered paid leave only to mothers of blood-related newborns, fails to serve many kinds of families, including military and veteran families; families caring for seniors or adults with disabilities; and LGBT families who, for instance, adopt or foster children. But where the federal government is falling short, many states and cities are beginning to take action.
“Since 2016, we have worked to pass paid sick and safe-time laws that cover extended and chosen family in two states, four cities—including the country’s three most populous cities—and one county,” said Jared Make, co-founder of A Better Balance’s joint LGBTQ Rights Project with Family Values @ Work. “This groundbreaking research from CAP highlights the critical need for paid sick and safe-time laws with realistic and inclusive family definitions. Armed with these new data on family diversity and caregiving patterns, more cities and states are poised to take action to ensure that workers can care for those individuals who are most important to them.”