"Americans shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice their retirement security when they take time off from work to raise children, care for an aging parent, or support a family member living with disabilities," O’Rourke said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "We must bring bold, innovative solutions to make our economy work for every single American and ensure that hardworking parents and caregivers can support their loved ones and have what they need when they retire."
According to the Pew Research Center, 23% of Americans say they have taken time off work to care for a family member with a serious health condition. O'Rourke's plan is similar to legislation introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Chris Murphy in 2015. If elected president, the former Texas congressman would work to offer Americans who act as caregivers for children under 12 or family members with health conditions a credit "equal to 50% of the average earnings of a full-time, year-round worker." Beneficiaries, including those who take care of veterans and already receive a stipend through the VA Family Caregiver Program, would be able to collect credits for up to five years.
O'Rourke's team said the proposal will particularly benefit women, who spend more than twice the time as men on caregiving. Women also earn less thanks to the gender wage gap and average 10 fewer years in the workforce. They are also often the primary caretakers in their households: Nearly 65% of women caregivers told the Pew Research Center "they provided more care for their sick family member than anyone else in the family." These factors often lead women to save less for retirement and obtain fewer Social Security benefits. The campaign said the caregiver credit aims to help close that gap.
Other parts of O'Rourke's proposal include restoring a program allowing full-time students aged 22 or younger to collect a deceased parent’s Social Security benefits, and reforming the current survivor benefits structure to include same-sex couples and families with multiple breadwinners.