Caregiver and older woman As of2011, about ten million Americans ages sixty-five and older wereliving in setting other than nursing homes and receiving help fromcaregivers, frequently family members. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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A new study by Health Affairs outlines the highfinancial burden being shouldered by working-class families whoprovide care for aging parents and other relatives. Thesecaregiving costs for families is likely to double over the next 30years, the study found.

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The study said that the aging population is creating unprecedentednumbers of older Americans with complex and costly health careneeds. Many of them rely on family members for caregiving, and thestrain this puts on working Americans is increasing over time.

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Related: More than half of middle-income elders will not beable to afford housing in 10 years

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“The older population is growing in size much faster than theyounger population is, and the ratio of adults ages 20–64 relativeto those ages 65 and older is projected to decline,” the studysaid. “This is why a much larger share of the working-agepopulation in the future would need to be caregivers just to keepup with the current prevalence of unpaid caregiving, based on age.By mid-century more than 10 percent of all adults ages 20–64 wouldbe caregivers, and their number would increase by more than tenmillion compared to 2013.”

An aging population relies on family caregivers

The study notes that as of 2011, about ten million Americansages sixty-five and older were living in setting other than nursinghomes and receiving help from caregivers, frequently familymembers. That assistance included help with bathing, walking, andeating. In addition, there is a growing number of older adults withcognitive impairments such as Alzheimer disease and otherdementias. “These people overwhelmingly rely on unpaid help andcare provided by family and friends, most commonly by theirworking-age children,” the study noted.

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Providing this help has costs—including lost wages as workersgive up hours or take leaves to help with caregiving. The HealthAffairs study found that the current costs of caregiving providedby family members is $67 billion. The study projected that thosecosts will double to $132—$147 billon by 2050, due in part to thegrowing number of older Americans in need of care.

Higher-income Americans will shoulder more of the burden

The report's author notes that there are limitations to thestudy, in part because assumptions made about costs and what thesystem of care will look like in the future.

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However, one interesting projection is that caregivers willinclude a higher proportion of people with higher earningcapacities, who will begin facing substantially higher work-relatedopportunity costs due to caregiving. For example, in 2013, over 50percent of the opportunity cost was borne by workers who did nothave a bachelor's degree; the report projects that by 2050,demographic changes will mean that those with a bachelor's degreewill account for 60 percent or more of the opportunity costburden.

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The study concluded by noting the economic and policyimplications for these growing caregiving costs. “Alongsidenegative health consequences and other burdens of providing unpaidcare, [these costs] could translate to a growing negative fiscalimpact through forgone taxes and potentially larger outlays forsocial programs,” the study said. “Therefore, future discussions ofthe role of family caregiving should recognize that this is afinite and increasingly expensive resource. Future policy actioncould benefit from accounting fully for the costs in addition tothe benefits of caregiving, which would help better define thescope and size of programs needed to support caregivers—many ofwhom struggle to balance their work and caregiving activities.”

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