Caregivers risk retirement benefits aiding elderly parents

Americans know they sacrifice them to provide care for their elderly parents, but they probably don't just how high a price they are paying. A study released Tuesday by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the National Alliance for Caregiving and the Center for Long Term Care Research and Policy at New York Medical College, put that cost at $3 trillion.

The study, The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for Their Parents, shows that on average, each individual caregiver loses income of more than a quarter-million dollars. Men lose less than women, coming in at $283,716; women lose $324,044. And that loss is on the rise: The current percentage of adults providing care to an elderly parent has tripled since 1994.

Drawing on data from the National Health and Retirement Study (HRS), researchers looked not only at the extent that adults provide care, but also at the toll the position of caregiver takes on careers, wages and retirement income. Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, said in a statement, "Nearly 10 million adult children over the age of 50 care for their aging parents. Assessing the long-term financial impact of caregiving for aging parents on caregivers themselves, especially those who must curtail their working careers to do so, is especially important, since it can jeopardize their future financial security."

Not only does caregiving come with a financial cost, it takes its toll on health as well. Adults in the 50+ age group who provide care are more likely to report fair or poor health, as opposed to those who do not act as caregivers. A quarter of all adult children, whether working or not, but mostly baby boomers, are providing care for their parents.

Daughters do the heavy lifting—28% are providing basic care such as dressing, feeding and bathing—while sons are more likely to provide financial support (providing $500 or more within the past two years). Only 17% of men are likely to provide basic care. Women lose more income because of leaving jobs early—$142,693 in wages, whereas men will lose $89,107—and their Social Security benefits go down by $131,351. Men, oddly enough, will lose more in Social Security than women, at $144,609. The pensions of both take hits, too, "very conservatively" estimated at $50,000; the same for men as women.

The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers provides updated information first reported in two MetLife studies: Sons at Work: Balancing Employment and Eldercare (2003) and The MetLife Juggling Act Study: Balancing Caregiving with Work and the Costs Involved (1999).

The study points out that employers can provide retirement planning and stress management information, and can provide assistance such as flex-time and family leave. It also points out that individuals should consider their own health when caregiving and should prepare financially for their own retirements. The study shows that more states are considering laws to provide for paid family leave, especially as it is accrued through workers' compensation funds, and federally, the voluntary long-term care insurance program that is part of the Affordable Care Act will likely increase public awareness of the issue.

Gail Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, said in a statement, "There is … evidence that caregivers experience considerable health issues as a result of their focus on caring for others. The need for flexibility in the workplace and in policies that would benefit working caregivers is likely to increase in importance as more working caregivers approach their own retirement, while still caring for their loved ones."

Timmermann added, "As the percentage of employees who are caregivers continues to grow, there will be greater demand on employers for help and support. There are many workplace resources and programs that can be made available that benefit all stakeholders since financial stress can negatively impact physical health and workplace productivity."

 

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