The Working Caregiver: Elder care’s impact on the workplace

At a time when adult children are usually working at their highest earning potential and should be socking away money for their own retirement, millions of Americans are being prematurely pulled away from the workforce, incrementally or altogether, to shoulder the burden of elder care responsibilities. Care issues have really begun to bookend the work experience as employees face challenges in child care at the beginning of their careers and challenges in elder care toward the end of their careers. For those in the sandwich generation, these care responsibilities may actually overlap in the middle of their careers presenting a compounded challenge of needs. “Parent care continues to be the primary caregiving situation for mid-life caregivers with 70% of the caregivers between the ages of 50 to 64,” according to a report by Wagner D. Takagi, E. Health Affairs: Informal Caregiving: By and For Older Adults.

Deciding between doing it all, reducing hours, leaving work, or getting professional help, it can be a difficult to know what to do. For those that stay in the workforce and try and balance responsibilities they tend to experience lack of focus, absenteeism, fatigue, and poorer health. Having one individual in the household leave the workforce can be a big financial hit as well. “Women who left the labor force early because of caregiving responsibilities”, according to a MetLife Mature Marketing Institute Report,” experienced a total individual amount of lost wages and social security benefits totaling $324,044. For men, the impact was a total of $283,716, as they are statistically less likely to be the primary caregiver for an aging adult. For baby boomers who are caregivers this is a big financial hit. To put that number in perspective, Fidelity Investments estimates that a couple, age 65, retiring in 2013 will need $220,000 out-of-pocket to pay for medical expenses alone. That assumes that this couple is using Medicare and that there are no long-term care costs.

Not only are adult children taking a hit in pay, but a quarter of them, mainly baby boomers, provide personal and financial care to an aging parent as well. As families are more and more spread out, long-distance caregivers feel the impact of expenses the hardest. “Long-distance caregivers had the highest annual expenses ($8,728) compared to co-resident caregivers ($5,885) or those who cared for a loved one nearby ($4,570), according to a report by the AARP Public Policy Institute called, “Valuing the Invaluable: 2008. The Economic Value of Family Caregiving.” All in all about 44 million Americans provide $37 billion hours of unpaid “informal” care each year for adult family members and friends with chronic illnesses that prevent them from handling daily activities.

For cultural and financial reasons, Americans are working later and later in life, shaping second and third careers and finding new and challenging ways to contribute to society. In fact, in the National Study for the Changing Workforce, it found that 75% of people 50+ expect to work past age 65. We tend to think of age 65 as the finish line that we run toward; however when Social Security began and 65 was set as the retirement age, the average life expectancy was only 62. There is no question that we are living and working longer and an important question that we should be asking is how can we keep and support a robust workforce as we face a silver tsunami of aging adults? What will our workplaces look like when many employees will be balancing caregiving responsibilities?

We believe people should have options. In fact, we built it into our name. At Sound Options, we provide solutions in elder care that address the needs of aging adults as well as their working family. That’s why you’ll find in-home care that is scaled to the need as well as elder care coaching. We want you to get not just the care, but the clarity and information you need to make the right decisions with your family. As the largest Care Management firm in Washington State, we’ve been helping families get the customized care they need for 25 years.

Whether you need help getting a parent to an appointment, or you need help managing a crisis, we’re here when you need us. At Sound Options, we are professionals in our field so you can be professionals in yours. Call on the experts at 800.628.7648 or do your homework online at .  

Published on April 3, 2014.