This is absolutely going to be a somewhat self-indulgent rant, but I think it’s a bit instructive and I need to get this off my chest so I focus on some work. As anyone who read my post about women and sports injuries knows, I will be going under the knife myself for hip surgery myself in June. My experience in scheduling and preparing for this surgery seems to be a perfect example of the ways that the current economy and health care system totally fucks over single young adults, those who do not yet have children and who are not necessarily under the care of their parents anymore. We already know that people in this age group face lower rates of health insurance than their older counterparts (Center for American Progress and Demos 2008), but I believe my age groups faces challenges in accessing health care in a number of other ways as well, most notably lack of care and being underinsured.
In my own case, I have to go to Baltimore, about an hour away and only accessible by car, for my surgery and at least 5 pre- and post-op appointments. In each case, I will be unable to drive myself to Baltimore because I will have either a non-functional leg or I will be woozy from donating my own blood for use during my surgery. This means that I have to beg anyone I know to try to take me there which will require that they miss work on a weekday. Obviously, this has been an enormous challenge, but I have one friend who has stepped up to the challenge. I’ve also been arguing with my mother about whether or not my sister, who is moving here in a couple weeks, will be able to help. If nothing else, I thought that my sister’s new employer would be understanding because the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 provides unpaid leave for people to care for their own illness or the illness of a family member. Turns out though, that according to the FMLA, only spouses, parents, and children count as family members. That means anyone who is old enough to be out of their parents’ home and not yet married is basically fucked. It means that employers will not recognize that my own sister or any of my friends can legitimately ask for an hour or two or some flexible scheduling to help me deal with my medical needs. The FMLA has long been acknowledged as insufficient because it only provides for unpaid leave, but I feel my experience has revealed another shortcoming of the law, it was still designed with the traditional family in mind. It’s not only people like me that suffer from this definition, but also many Americans, such as gay and lesbian couples who cannot marry, and therefore, cannot access these benefits. It’s important to keep this issue in mind as the movement for paid sick days and paid family leave has been gathering steam in anticipation of a possible Democratic administration in 2009. Furthermore, I’m extremely disappointed that the feminists fighting for this issue have not made a bigger deal out of the way that the FMLA fails to care for unmarried Americans. I’m actually “punch a hole in the wall angry” that this is yet another example of the way that unmarried Americans are punished for not starting a family and pumping out babies immediately after college. As long as that kind of thinking guides our policy-making, we will never be able to adapt to the new reality that many younger Americans are delaying marriage to start their careers and are often forced to rely on friends or siblings their own age for the care they cannot receive from a spouse or a parent.
While this post is mostly a rant about the ways that federal policies such as the FMLA, I also want to point out that my experience has brought up the ways that I, like many people in my generation, am under-insured by the health care system. While I am extremely luck to have health insurance that my employer completely pays for, that has come at the expense of high co-pays each time I have had to go see a doctor, get an MRI, go to physical therapy, etc. At $25 a pop on my meager non-profit salary, those expenses add up quickly and it will only get worse as rehab will involve even more physical therapy appointments for quite a few months. The thing that really sucks about this is that I am a relatively healthy person! I can only imagine the challenges that people my age who make less, who are saddled by student loans, or who have far more severe health needs deal with this problem!
I raise these issues because I feel that progressives, particularly feminists, have been incredibly enthusiastic about the promise of a care economy, feeling that it unites all women because valuing care would improve lives for older women (who are cared for by their children), middle age women (who need help with work/family balance), and children (who would have greater care from their parents). It is obvious that younger, unmarried, childless women (as well as gays and lesbians) are missing from that way of thinking. We’re out there struggling all the time on not that much money and trying to piece together support networks of friends and siblings that are seen as illegitimate by policies that do not reflect our realities. It just makes me so angry I could die. When will people wake up and realize that young, unmarried Americans are really struggling these days and actually do something for them? It really is an outrage the way that our challenges and experiences are consistently ignored by policy makers, political leaders, and even those people we have to interact with on a daily basis.
UPDATE (5/14): I have been talking to one of my co-workers here at IWPR about the FMLA and paid sick days legislation to learn more about these issues. Here’s what she had to say:
I think you would be happier with the language in most of the paid sick days legislation. A typical definition includes “any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” (I GUESS you could say your relationship with your sister is ALMOST like being family!) So this covers sibs, grandparents, same-sex partners, etc. etc. There’s been a lot of discussion about broadening the FMLA definition but since 2001 it has not been reasonable to expect to make any positive changes to that law.
So, it looks like some people (including IWPR, YAY!) are working hard on trying to make the FMLA and paid sick days legislation work for all people. Let’s show them some love!