More than a quarter of the U.S. adult population—nearly 66 million people—are family caregivers, and seven out of ten are caring for loved ones over the age of 50, according to a 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP study funded by the MetLife Foundation. The estimated economic value of their annual unpaid effort is $450 billion—the total annual sales of Wal-Mart! Nearly three-quarters of those caregivers also work at paid jobs. Those of us who juggle caregiving and work may feel, or indeed may be, very alone in this important endeavor. Each family is unique. Whatever our circumstances, we all have challenges and we all struggle to balance work and caregiving along with our other relationships, health and personal lives. Who are Working Caregivers in the U.S.?
According to an AARP study[i] of caregivers in the United States:
- 61 percent of caregivers age 50+ work: 50 percent work full time, 11 percent work part time.
- 42 percent of U.S. employees have cared for an older relative or friend in the last five years, and 49 percent of the workforce expects to provide care in the next five years.
- 20 percent of all female workers and 16 percent of all male workers in the United States are caregivers.
- 22 percent—almost a quarter—of caregivers in the workplace are 45 to 64 years old.
Who Do Working Caregivers in the U.S. Care For?
According to a 2010 Gallup survey[ii], we care for loved ones of all ages: 35 percent care for those 85 and older, 32 percent for those 75 to 84 years old, 17 percent for those 65 to 74 years old and 16 percent for loved ones under the age of 65. And we care for a wide range of family and friends:
- Parents (72 percent)
- Grandparents (7 percent)
- Spouse (5 percent)
- Other family members (5 percent)
- Friends (5 percent)
- Sibling (3 percent)
- Aunt or uncle (2 percent)
The Challenges of Working Caregivers in the U.S.
We really have at least two jobs: The work we get paid for and our caregiving job, because make no mistake: Caregiving at any level is hard, although rewarding, work. It seems there are not enough hours in the day to manage our own work and personal lives, much less support our loved ones.
Often we don’t know how long we will play this role, but we do know that the needs of our loved ones and the demands on our time and energy will most likely increase over time. It’s a role we choose to play, sure, but it can be really, really hard. Working caregivers are in the position of keeping (or finding) work while meeting the constantly changing needs of our loved ones. We never know when a crisis is around the corner. Some of us have employers who are generally supportive of our caregiving roles, seeing the value of keeping good employees; other caregivers struggle to work in situations that are inflexible. Most of us have excellent work ethics and history, and we worry about keeping up our standards at work while also being the best possible caregivers for our loved ones.
You may find yourself worrying about making work deadlines because you have to take your loved ones to an appointment or deal with an emergency or another caregiving issue. You may use your lunch time, breaks and vacations to care for your loved ones, adjust your work habits and hours to meet their needs and talk to your employer about your loved ones’ situation. You may feel guilty when you are working because you aren’t with your loved ones—and vice-versa. If the situation becomes too stressful, you may refuse paid work because you just don’t have the time or look for a new job that is less demanding time wise. In the extreme, you may quit your job altogether because you just can’t juggle all your responsibilities.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute[iii], working caregivers often have to alter their working situation, to the detriment of their long-term career advancement and financial security:
- 68 percent of caregivers surveyed had to make work accommodations such as taking time off, coming in late, leaving early, refusing a promotion, reducing work hours, changing jobs or quitting. Low-income employees, minorities and women were most likely to make work accommodations to care for older relatives. Cutting back on hours or quitting can reduce earnings as well as Social Security benefits, health insurance and contributions to retirement plans.
- 19 percent of retirees stopped working earlier than planned because of caregiving, with significant loss of income: Female caregivers age 50+ who stop working to care for a parent lose an average of $324,044 in wages and benefits over the course of their lives; male caregivers age 50+ lose an average of $283,716.
- Caregivers who work were more likely than their non-caregiving colleagues to have health challenges and report fair or poor health in general.
Let’s face it: Caring for our loved ones can be very demanding and requires sacrifice. We working caregivers have an additional layer of burden. Studies have shown how taxed we are. We are less likely to take care of ourselves until our loved ones have been taken care of and our work is done. Compared to our non-caregiving colleagues, we are less rested, have elevated daily and chronic pain, and have more health issues such as high blood pressure. We generally suffer worse emotional health. Guilt, frustration, anger, despair, sadness, grief and fear are our constant companions. We often sacrifice financially and struggle with legal issues. Our careers may be short-circuited. Relationships with partners, spouses, children, siblings, and friends often suffer. Finding balance can be tough.
Employer Support for Caregivers
Many employers offer support for working caregivers. Some reasons are altruistic: Caregivers provide a crucial part of support for our loved ones, including the growing number of older adults who need care. Without our help, our loved ones might need to depend on public or private services—or go without. But the primary driver is probably the company’s bottom line. We caregivers are often experienced workers who have a great deal to contribute in the workplace. If we stop working, our employers can lose our talent and experience. So employers offer policies, benefits and services that have been shown to increase productivity, lower employee stress, reduce company health care costs, reduce absenteeism, increase employee retention, improve health of current workers, increase company loyalty and attract new employees. It’s a win-win situation. With these supports, many caregivers can more easily accomplish their work and caregiving responsibilities; caregivers also say they are happier about their work and feel an increased sense of loyalty and commitment to their employers.
Workplace policies that help caregivers may be as simple as allowing employees to have access to their mobile phones so they can be reached in case of an emergency with their loved ones, or as targeted as back up eldercare and geriatric care management. Many employers offer flexible work schedules and locations, thanks to advances in technology. The largest employers are more likely to offer specific services to help you juggle work and caregiving, although the supports may not be exclusively for a caregiver. Sometimes they’ll fall under the category of work-life programs, benefits or policies, and might include an employee assistance program (EAP), counseling, support groups, information and referral, legal assistance or discounted professional care services.
The United States is aging, and so are its caregivers and care recipients—and a trend that will likely continue. As baby boomers age in the future, the majority of caregivers are likely to be juggling work and caregiving. Realistically, employers and employees alike will need to continue to adapt to the growing caregiving workforce.
AARP’s Juggling Work and Caregiving, by Amy Goyer, provides practical resources and tips for working caregivers, including:
- Balancing work and caregiving
- Assessing your current situation
- Caring for yourself
- Trying teamwork
- Getting—and staying—organized
- Navigating the legal maze
- Managing money matters
- Handling health issues and medical care
- Choosing the best living situations for your loved ones
- Getting through a crisis
- Experiencing the end of life
- Grieving and moving on
- Finding help
[i] AARP Public Policy Institute: AARP: Understanding the Impact on Family Caregiving at Work, 2012.
[ii] Gallup Consulting: The Wellbeing of the Working Caregiver Survey, 2010.
[iii] AARP Public Policy Institute: Understanding the Impact on Family Caregiving at Work, 2012.
This article is based on AARP’s upcoming e-book, Juggling Work and Caregiving, a guide for caregivers who also work, by Amy Goyer, slated for fall 2013 publication.
About the author
An expert in aging and families, specializing in caregiving, grandparenting and multigenerational issues, Amy Goyer has more than 30 years of experience working at the local, state, national and international levels. She is primary caregiver for both of her parents in Phoenix, Arizona. Ms. Goyer serves as AARP’s Home and Family Expert.