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The Burden of Caregiving is Hurting Women in the Workforce and the US Economy

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By Kathy Finley, Director of Family Services at Concierge Care Advisors

I saw an article in the Seattle Times newspaper and I was struck by the immensity of this situation. Because people are living longer, the burden on families to care for loved ones has grown into an economic problem for the families as well as the nation. They say about 15% of women and 13% of men from the age of 25 to 54 spend time caring for an older relative. Among people of age 55-64 it becomes 1 in 5 people who are caregivers for older relatives.

I have written before about my mom’s journey with dementia. With great planning on her part, she bought a long-term care policy 25 years ago, so my brother and I did not have to put our careers on hold to care for her. She is in a safe secure environment with caring staff and we mostly get to be her children, and not her caregivers. My grandmother went to a nursing home back in the 70s because my mom needed to work and I was in high school. Now, in many places nursing homes are going away, or they are cost prohibitive for most of all of us.

Economists have said that the near absence of support for eldercare is why the share of women taking part in the labor force stalled in the late 1990s. This share of women had been steadily rising for the previous 50 years. It is also noted that 60% of caregivers for relatives also work, and 45% work full time. This affects women and our nation because they are in their prime time for earning and working their way up the career ladder. In a survey of 36 industrialized countries in the year 2000 the US ranked 17th in the participation of prime age (25-54) women in the workforce. In 2017 the US ranked 30th.

Ten thousand baby boomers are turning 70 every day and living longer than what the original safety net of Social Security and Medicare can sustain. Caring Across Generations is a coalition of advocacy groups that is pushing to add benefits to cover the care of older adults, children, and sick family members to stand alongside Medicare and Social Security.

So how does this this affect the US economy? U.S. families give up at least $28.9 billion per year in wages that would normally inject money into our economy. Estimates are that in 2004 if women had been a greater part of the U.S. workforce, or equivalent to the percentage of women working in Canada or Germany, our gross domestic product would have increased by 3.5%! In California they have found that their 6 week partly paid family-leave benefit (newborns, sick relative or other care needs) has significantly increased the share of new mothers returning to work after one year, increased the labor hours of mothers in less skilled jobs, and over time, raise mothers’ wages over the long term by preventing career interruption to care for young children.

For those people over the age of 65, half will need an average of 2 years of long-term care to the tune of $266,000. A little more than half will come out of the pockets of the senior receiving care or from their family. This may affect the adult children’s savings, pensions, refinancing mortgages and stress on marriages. The likely outcome is that the senior will spend their money until they become indigent enough to then qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid pays for over a third of the country’s long-term care costs. One caregiver in the article that I read stated that “Caregivers are physically and mentally and financially dying. They are a health-care crisis in the making.” Different agencies throughout the country are investigating ways to help this crisis. One option may be in payroll taxes.

The baby boomers will still retire at 10,000 per day until 2030, or just over 35 million people that will need care at some point after that. A very sobering statistic and gets me thinking about how I can help myself in the future. I will be a part of that statistic in the next 7 years.

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