The Hidden Cost of Caregiving
Resources are lost to both employees and employers
According to AARP, Colorado is home to more than half a million people who are caring for a loved one in some capacity. Whether it’s caring for a child with special needs, an older parent who needs more help or a partner with a chronic condition, caregiving can be a joyful experience of building relationships and learning about yourself and your loved one. It can also be a tough, often full-time job.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 72 percent of formally employed caregivers work over 30 hours per week in addition to their caregiving responsibilities. When not at work, the typical caregiver spends an average of 18 hours per week caring for their loved one.
Providing care to loved ones can require an immense amount of time and financial resources, and many working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties due to their dual roles. When work requirements conflict with caregiving tasks, caregivers may be forced to make accommodations such as reducing work hours or taking a leave of absence, which can lead to losing employment-related benefits like health insurance, social security or retirement contributions. Alarmingly, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP report that more than half of caregivers must leave the workforce altogether to care for loved ones.
Many caregivers suffer higher levels of economic hardship due to their loss in wages, pensions, retirement funds and benefits. The National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities reports that nine in 10 caregivers do not receive payment for long-term care duties. Over the years, these costs can add up. Caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty than non-caregivers. Across a lifetime, an average of $303,880 worth of income and benefits is lost for family caregivers who are 50 years of age and older.
Female caregivers tend to feel a greater financial hit than male caregivers, and research from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP shows they are more likely to spend their own resources on caregiving. Furthermore, the sandwich generation — people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children — experiences the highest financial toll of caregiving, particularly those from minority communities.
The workforce is also impacted
Caregiving not only affects individual workers, but also has a substantial financial impact on employers. According to the MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Costs, the cost of informal caregiving in terms of lost productivity to U.S. business is between $17.1 billion and $33 billion each year. This cost is a result of employee absenteeism, new employee onboarding and workday adjustments that were all a result of an employee leaving a position due to their caregiving needs.
What can be done?
It has become imperative for employers to recognize the importance of helping employees balance their work, personal lives and family caregiving responsibilities. The Families and Work Institute recommends implementing programs that support caregivers to improve worker retention, productivity, stress levels and overall health. Flexible workplace policies like working from home or telecommuting, family leave, paid sick days and ‘cafeteria-style’ benefits allow employers to retain a talented and knowledgeable workforce and save the money and time that would otherwise have been spent recruiting, interviewing, selecting and training new employees.
Employers can also support caregivers through Employee Assistance Programs, referrals to community resources, or even in-house support groups. Across Colorado resources exist to support the more than 584,000 estimated family caregivers in our state, including respite care, support navigating the oftentimes complicated benefits system and trainings and education on caregiving and self-care to avoid burnout. Many caregivers, especially those who do not self-identify as such, are unaware that resources exist for them and that caregiving does not need to be a solo journey.
About Meghan Kluth: Meghan Kluth is the vice president of the Colorado Respite Coalition. To learn more about the resources available across our state visit: www.ColoradoCaregiving.org.