Many older Americans choose to have their family members care for them as they age. Despite the comfort a familiar face may provide, there is a significant cost for the loved ones who sacrifice their time, and often their upward economic mobility, to ensure that they can secure proper care for their senior parent.
In a report issued in March 2023, AARP stresses the importance of supporting family caregivers in their financial, emotional, physical, and professional lives. The analysis gives a glimpse into the experiences of family caregivers and also offers recommendations on policies, practices, and programs – across public as well as private realms – that policymakers should consider enacting or enhancing in support of caregivers and the individuals who are in their care.
How Much Does It Cost to Be a Family Caregiver?
Being a family caregiver can come at a great financial cost. The average cost of caregiving has risen exponentially in the past several years, and the trend is expected to increase more over time.
In its report, AARP estimates the value of family caregiving in 2021 at $600 billion dollars in unpaid contributions – up from $470 billion dollars in 2017.
The monetary value of caregiving is not the only cost of care. For family caregivers, some of the intangible costs of included:
- spending an average of 18 hours per week to tend to the needs of their loved ones
- facing higher risks of chronic loneliness, which may have negative health effects
- neglecting their own self-care
What Are the Major Issues in Family Caregiving?
According to the AARP report, by 2034, the population of people over 65 will outnumber the population of children under 18. With this historic shift, the researchers suggest that the impact on family caregiving will become even more prominent in several key areas:
The Need for Tailored Support for Diverse Caregivers and Their Families
Family caregivers across diverse cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities often face concerns about access to support that is specific to their community. Ensuring that affordable, inclusive, readily available policies and services are in place to meet these needs of these caregivers will continue to be critical.
Direct Care Workforce Shortage
Amid a shortage of professional caregivers that only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, AARP notes that the turnover rate among the direct care workforce averages between 40 percent and 60 percent each year. Failing to recruit and retain a dedicated workforce in caregiving as the aging population grows will inevitably add to the burden carried by unpaid family caregivers.
Economic Impact on Working Caregivers
Most family caregivers – nearly two-thirds of them in 2019, according to AARP – hold a full- or part-time job in addition to caring for their loved ones. These workers often take an economic hit because they need to split their time between their jobs and their home responsibilities.
Without such supports as telecommuting, paid leave, and respite care, they may have no choice but to call out of work, turn down promotions, or even leave their job altogether to dedicate themselves fully to providing care. This can then mean additional financial stress as well as adverse effects on their career and future earning potential.
A Growing Sandwich Generation
In 2019, about 30 percent of older Americans were living with their children or grandchildren. The so-called “sandwich” generation represents those who are responsible for caring for their children and their aging parents at the same time, while also working. These caregivers, who are likely to report more emotional and financial pressure, now tend to include workers across an ever-expanding age span – from 35 to 64.
The AARP’s report recommends specific policies and practices to support family caregivers going forward. These recommendations to policymakers include the following:
- Including family caregivers in planning and decision making across health care settings
- Improving access to respite care for family caregivers
- Ensuring that publicly funded programs and supports for caregivers are inclusive, culturally appropriate, and designed to meet the needs of diverse populations
- Offering family caregivers a tax credit
- Expanding protections for workers who rely on the Family and Medical Leave Act and related state programs while providing long-term care for family members, including instituting paid leave for working family caregivers
- Allowing for other programs that pay family caregivers
- Improving Social Security benefits for people who provide long-term care services to family members
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