Perhaps one-fourth of America's workers, most of them women, have a second fulltime job: taking care of an aging parent who's having trouble getting around. In terms of responsibility, it's like caring for a child -- but without the comfort of knowing that, in a few years, the child will be able to manage himself.
In the old days, women were generally at home to do the job. Today, they're in the work force. The conflict between working and care giving, between their own lives and their elderly parents' lives, can become acute.
Some quit their jobs. Many struggle on, with only stress and workplace absences to tell the tale.
"We think this is one of the emerging issues for employers in the late 1980s and 1990s," said Keith Anderson, a spokesman for Pepsico Inc.
"The issue of caring for the elderly is quite emotional, because an emergency situation usually creates the problem, when a person becomes ill or has an accident. That can be very draining on the employe."
An emerging employe benefit known as "eldercare" is taking various forms, according to Hewitt Associates, an Illinois consulting firm:
Information and referral. Companies sponsor lunchtime lectures and "care fairs" in association with local social-service organizations.
They tell employes about the various services available in the community, such as Meals on Wheels, and give advice on such matters as nursing homes, the special legal problems of the elderly and the delicate matter of helping a parent manage money. Pepsico even has an employe hot line to a local center on aging.
Flexible hours. Some parents need regular care at particular hours. Stress goes down if the employe can schedule his or her working time to meet that obligation.
Company-sponsored day care centers. A few companies are combining day care for children and elderly parents in the same building.
Financial support through employe-benefit plans. Flexible spending plans -- now offered by more than 500 companies -- are perfect vehicles for providing dependent care.
Employes can set aside up to $5,000 of their earnings to help pay for care costs -- say, by a nurse's aide or at a day care center -- while they're at work.
No income tax or Social Security tax is paid on the money.
To qualify for the plan and avoid tax, you have to meet strict qualifications.
The parent must live in your home at least eight hours a day; he or she must be unable to care for himself; you must supply more than half of his or her support; and he or she can have no more than $1,900 of gross taxable income annually.
This program is vulnerable to the federal government's struggle against budget deficits. A proposal now in Congress would drop your nontaxable benefit to $500 a year.
If this passes, Hewitt consultant Howard Fine said, corporations are not likely to kick in with extra money to compensate employes.
Insurance coverage for long-term care. This is a newer option, allowing employes to buy modest amounts of nursing-home insurance -- for themselves, their spouses or their parents -- at group rates. American Express Co. will offer this program through the Travelers insurance company starting Jan. 1.
Employes will be able to choose a daily benefit of $50 or $100, starting from the 91st day of care, according to Karen Manning, American Express' vice president for employe benefits.
The lifetime maximums are $75,000 and $150,000 respectively. The package includes $25 or $50 a day for home-care coverage. A 30-year-old insuring only himself would pay either $2.50 or $5 every two weeks. A 50-year-old would pay $8 or $16. Premiums are set when you enter the program, and don't rise with age.
For more information about eldercare, employers should take a look at a program kit called "Caregivers in the Workplace," developed by the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington. It's a road map to the futur