A recent article by the New York Times covered some of the trends in aging and the economy that could have a tremendous impact on how families, particularly women and millenials, care for elder family members in the future. While it is no secret an increasing percentage of America will become older with the wave of Baby Boomers entering their golden years, the societal and economic impacts are less discussed and more profound.
According to data cited in the article, an estimated one in five working age adults in the U.S. is retired, approximately 15 percent of the population. Of those retirees, as many as 14 million adults may not be able to live independently and require some sort of in-home or skilled nursing care to survive.
Experts studying the issue believe the burden of caring for older family members may be one reason by women have less earning power over all than men. The article points out that about a quarter of women 45 to 64 years old and one in seven of those 35 to 44 are caring for an older relative.
Recent surveys show that approximately 10 percent of family caregivers, many of them female, are forced to cut back on hours at their jobs and as many as 6 percent leave their jobs entirely. A 2015 survey shows caregivers put in as many as 20-hours per week helping elderly and infirm family members, with four out of five saying they have missed work due to their obligations to their beloved elders.
Changing demographics do not point to a positive outlook. By 2030, 20 percent of the country will reach retirement age and require three-years of care with up to one in five needing five or more years. As a result, older Americans in the future will rely more heavily on their children and social welfare programs.
Unfortunately, shrinking family sizes and higher divorce rates among Baby Boomers mean there will be fewer children and spouses to help share the load and care for those who will inevitably develop a disability or serious medical condition. Furthermore, Social Security and Medicare may not be able to meet these growing challenges as these programs were developed during a time when families were larger, less women were in the work force, and people lived 20-years less on average.
Although this does not appear to be the best outlook, there is still time for families young and old to plan for their futures and help ease the strain of potential health care needs. By being proactive and taking the time to plan for the future, families can do a much better job of addressing their long term care needs.