Josephine (Josie) Kalipeni is Director of Policy and Federal Affairs for Caring Across Generations, a campaign working with more than 100 partner organizations across the country to transform the way we care. Josie was also on the planning committee for the Academy’s 31st annual policy conference >Regenerating Social Insurance for Millennials and the Millennium , held January 30-31, 2019 in Washington, DC. At the conference, Josie moderated one of the >panel discussions, Universal Family Care to Support Workers and Families.

We had an opportunity to speak with Josie recently about the role policy can play in helping young Americans now and in their future.

What is Universal Family Care and why is it a timely topic?

Josie: Universal Family Care (UFC) is both a policy solution and a vision of the world we want to create for families. In order for families to thrive, we need to make a foundation of paid family leave, affordable child care, and dignified elder care services available to every family. As the Baby Boomer generation ages and Millennials become parents, our need for care is surging but care is out of reach for most. Costs are sky high, workplace policies are very unequal, private insurance models are broken, and there frankly is not enough care out there. Now is a prime time to build a collective foundation of support, or as we like to call it, care infrastructure, so we can lessen the extent to which one’s dignity and economic security are dictated by income, zip code, race or gender.

At Caring Across Generations (CAG), we strongly believe that this infrastructure must also address the needs of the consumer (the recipient of care) but expressly include help for the paid caregiving workforce and family caregivers. We refer to this trio as the “caring majority” and the solutions we present always intervene at the crossroads of all three. If all of these needs are not addressed, policy solutions will fall short.

(Read more: Is Universal Family Care social insurance for the 21st century?)

How does caregiving impact the future financial security of Millennials?

Josie: One of the primary reasons we are addressing Millennials is because we are seeing an increase in their role as family caregivers. They may be working, caring for their own children, and helping parents who are aging and will tend to live longer than previous generations.

(Read more: 10,000 people a day turn 65, and 70% of seniors will need long-term care.) 

While previous generations faced these issues, there are some differences for Millennials, which include: the introduction of technology, advances in medicine, the high cost of housing, higher rates of student debt, a more expansive notion of how families are defined, and the changing nature of work. We also know from economic reports that wages have not kept up with inflation or the cost of living, so that is an additional burden, and younger workers have lower access to benefits.

If we do not intervene, there is a danger of a larger population aging into poverty. Our ability to solve this conundrum of access and affordability for Millennials is to address the needs for their future now, so they can grow into their lives in a financially sound way, and age and retire with security.

(Read more: Providing leave benefits for caregivers makes it more likely they will return to jobs, thereby having positive effects on lifetime earnings.)

Can caregivers expect help?

Josie: Caregivers can expect help, but must also demand it. The good news is there is lot of momentum in both the policy and organizing worlds. We have a current panel study on Universal Family Care, funded through the Academy, which will eventually make policy recommendations to legislators. The panel is looking at options for how UFC might work at the state level; what are the components and potential benefit amounts; what are some of the ways the state could consider administering the program? We are planning to release some of the preliminary findings at the conference in January. At the same time, we must continue to build political will by raising our voices for change so legislators feel the urgency and treat this as a priority.

(Read more: About the Academy’s 2019 Policy Conference.)

Are Millennials responsive to your advocacy message?

Josie: Absolutely. One of the important things I advocate for in policy spaces is engaging the people most impacted, as the folks closest to the problems are often closest to the solution. Millennials are engaged digitally and they are looking for a way to plug into community and activism. We find that we are in a moment where we can talk to people about multiple issues. It used to be an assumption that when you are talking to people and trying to persuade them about an issue, you focus on one thing. But with Millennials, we have the opportunity to have conversations about their multi-issue experiences.

Are caregiving needs more visible now than in the past?

Josie: I definitely think so. We know that health care is one of the top three domestic policies, which has brought greater awareness to the issue of caregiving. The formation of a caregiver task force in Congress is another example of how people are paying more attention to caregiver needs. While we are happy to see some politicians talking about expanding health care, we want to be sure they include health care across the life spectrum. We have definitely seen the needle move on that, especially in some states that now include a long-term care benefit. We are working to include that at the federal level.

(Read more: >About the existing paid family and medical leave programs currently available in a handful of states.)

What led you to the work you are doing now?

I started out in direct services, providing counseling and case management services to low-income families. It provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at how the care system is structured and how it was falling short. Through those experiences, I became frustrated with a broken system and slowly transitioned into an advocate role. At a transitional point, while reconsidering my career path, I had to take time off to support my mother who was taking care of my ailing father. I was being pulled in two directions, looking for a work transition while at the same time helping my family. Around that time, I met Ai-Jen Poo from Caring Across and it has been magic ever since.

Josie Kalipeni earned a B.A. in sociology with a concentration in political science and religious studies from the University of Illinois and her master’s degree in social justice and community development from Loyola University in Chicago. Josie has been a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance since 2018.

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