The unpaid family caregiver[i] is one of the most critical assets that our country has to combat the healthcare needs and costs of our aging population. However, it will soon become one of the most endangered, according to an article recently published in the New York Times, “Who Will Care for the Caregiver?” The article, which pulls data from a recent study, conducted by Greenwald & Associates for The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute[ii], warns of a turning point, when reliance on younger generations to take on the role of caregiving may no longer sustainable, due to a shrinking supply of caregivers overall.
According to Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, while Boomers and those before them make up just over half (52%) of caregivers today, post-Boomers (Millennials and Gen Xers) are on target to outpace them, representing nearly half (48%) of all caregivers as of 2015. As might be expected, younger generations tend to take care of loved ones one or two generations older. Nearly all of Gen Xers’ caregiving is for the Boomer and Silent generations (87%). Among Millennials, 67% provide care to Gen Xers and Boomers.
The problem lies in the shrinking supply of caregivers and the challenges that they face. According to the research cited by the New York Times, in 2015, there were 7 caregivers for every older American. Due to fewer marriages, smaller family sizes, and greater geographical separation, that number is expected to shrink to 3 caregivers per older American by 2030. While Gen Xers and Boomers are focused on providing care to their parents, over 50% of the care provided by Millennials is directed at other relatives and even non-relatives. The Millennial focus on providing care beyond their immediate family could signal a transition already from a family-model to a community-model. The community-model, and the expectations that younger generations will step in to fill the gap of family and government assistance, will place even greater challenges on Millennials and Gen Xers, and presumably their employers.
What effects will this major, generational pressure put on the workplace? How can employers align their benefits, health, and financial offerings to best assist their most critical employees? By 2030, as many Gen Xers are poised to retire, they will be faced with the financial challenges of increased health care costs, dried up federal assistance programs like Social Security, and the caregiving costs of their generation and those before them. Their employers will realize just how much intellectual capital they are losing in that generation and the pressure that Millennials will be taking on. It just may take a village to combat the side effects of the caregiving dilemma. This could be an opportunity for both employers and a whole generation to think outside of the box and innovate solutions that benefit everyone.