Eldercare and Paid Family Leave: Love and the Bottom Line

October 28, 2019
Photo of a woman with her grandmother

Taking care of aging relatives is taking a growing toll on millions of Americans. Estimates predict that the burden will get bigger — the older population will reach about 20% of the total U.S. population by 2030. And one in 13 will be older than 85.1 Who’s paying the costs — in time, careers, incomes, health and productivity?

 

 

Growing Older — Help Wanted

Here’s a snapshot of current and future caregiving needs for the elderly:

  • The average care recipient is 69.4 years old — a member of the 80-million-member baby boom generation.4
  • About 66% of older adults with disabilities get all their care and assistance from their family members.5
  • Half of Americans who reach 65 will need long-term care, typically for two years, according to government projections.6

These statistics and others paint a picture of a crisis that’s unfolding fast — even though many boomers are still rock 'n' rolling. Overall, they’re healthier than previous generations. And advances in medical treatments may help them live longer.7

But as they reach their 80s, 90s and beyond, boomers are seeing more medical problems and frailty, and may require more care.

Weighing Workers Down — Career and Income Impacts

The impacts of this demographic shift are already falling heavily on mid-life adults, especially women. You may see them as co-workers, employees or neighbors — but they also serve as nurses, cooks, drivers, organizers and more for their loved ones.

These competing demands can have devastating effects on working caregivers’ careers and earnings. Studies show that 70% suffer work-related difficulties due to their dual roles.4 And about six out of 10 workers experience at least one change in their employment due to caregiving. Negative impacts include rearranging work schedules, cutting back hours, taking a leave of absence or receiving a warning about performance or attendance.4,8

Employee Challenges and Costs

  • 40% of caregivers for elderly relatives work in inflexible environments and have been forced to reduce their work hours or quit.11
  • Only 53% of employers offer flexible work hours or paid sick days.4
  • Only 22% allow telecommuting regardless of employee caregiving burden.4
American families forgo at least $28.9 billion per year in wages when they take time off to care for their children or sick relatives.10
  • 17% of caregivers of people diagnosed with dementia quit their jobs, either before or after taking on caregiving responsibilities.9
  • 54% arrive to their place of work late or leave early, 15% take a leave of absence and 9% quit their jobs to continue providing care.9
  • Less than one-third (32%) of employers offer paid family leave.4
  • Only 23% offer employee assistance programs.4
  • Only 9% of employers offered on-site or near-site eldercare, compared to 22% offering on-site or near-site child care.12
  • Only 8% offered subsidies for eldercare services, compared to 19% offering subsidies for child care.12

Adding to Employer Costs — Lost Time and Talent

Paychecks or Parents?

That’s a choice millions of people have to make when an elderly parent or relative becomes dependent. Whether it’s dementia, an injury or just “old age,” parents’ needs can put their adult children’s careers and lives on hold.

What happens when someone drops out of the workforce and loses two, five or even 10 years of experience and earnings? Their own health and financial security may be at risk.

Why Aren’t More Women Working? They’re Caring for Parents, New York Times, Aug. 29, 2019, nytimes.com

Caregiver absenteeism costs the U.S. economy an estimated $25.2 billion in lost productivity, according to a 2011 report. That’s based on an average of 6.6 workdays missed per working caregiver per year, averaging $200 in lost productivity per day.14

The costs of losing talent add up, too. Among workers who provide care for an elderly relative, seven in 10 have had to cut back on hours — and wages — or drop out of the workforce altogether.15 In another study, one-third reported leaving a job during their careers due to caregiving responsibilities.12 That can create a high turnover rate. And as HR managers know, hiring and training new people can be a big expense!

Eldercare is also unpredictable, even more so than child care. Parents can plan for constant child care in the early years and less as children grow more independent. With the elderly, it’s the opposite. Their needs tend to be intermittent, changing and increasing.13 That unpredictability can put a big strain on employees and their managers.

Looking Up — New Awareness and Resources

While news articles tend to focus on the lack of support for eldercare, a positive shift is underway. In the last decade, the share of employers providing eldercare resources and referral services increased from 29% in 2005 to 46% in 2016. What’s more, 78% of employers say that they provide paid or unpaid time off for employees to provide eldercare — without putting their jobs at risk.16

There’s also growing awareness coming from the top down. More and more CEOs and organizational leaders are struggling to care for aging parents. That gives them the first-hand experience, perspective and incentive to help employees manage these challenges.17 Forward-thinking employers understand that the costs of losing talent and productivity can outweigh the costs of support for caregivers.12

Paying It Off — Benefits of Paid Family Leave, Including Caregiving

Here’s a rare consensus: Most Americans agree that paid family leave is a good thing. When asked what the consequences would be if all Americans had access to paid leave for family or medical reasons, about 90% say it would have a very or somewhat positive impact on families, women and men. And about two-thirds (65%) think the impact on the economy would be positive as well.18

What’s the track record for PFL? One study of paid leave in California found that giving workers some time off increases the likelihood that workers — particularly if they’re low-income — will stay in the labor force following personal and family health events.19

In most other states, Paid Family and Medical Leave laws are relatively new, not in force yet or nonexistent, so stay tuned for future results.

Interested in more information on caregiving and the aging population? Check out this post that answers the question: Why Is Paid Family Leave So Important for All Generations?

It’s also important to us at The Standard, both as a leading insurance carrier and as a national employer with offices across the country. Helping families take care of their loved ones is at the core of what we do.

We’d like to hear about your experiences with eldercare — and why paid family leave matters to you, your family and your organization. It’s easy to connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter with the hashtag #PaidFamilyLeave. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Watch This Space

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Categories: 
Demographic Perspectives