Elder Care Crisis Is Everyone’s Business When Employees Double As Caregivers

By R.W. Greene — The United States is in the midst an elderly population explosion that is creating a brewing elder care crisis.

The need for elder care is rising as the number of elderly increases.
The need for elder care is rising as the number of elderly increases.

Two years ago, those aged 60 and older, made up slightly more than 18% of the population.

That was only a couple of percentage points higher than 30 years earlier. But by 2020, people 60 and older will be than 22% of the population.

More than 16% of the population will be aged 65 and older. That’s a 7% increase since 1980. By 2025, a third of U.S. cities will have more senior citizens than children, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

This demographic upheaval might seem of no concern to U.S. employers.

By definition, the vast majority of this age group has ended any formal connection to the traditional workforce.

But these Senior Boomers will depend, to an extent never before seen, on help from their adult children.

In the coming years, large numbers of middle-aged employees will have parents who are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Thanks to a century of progress in medical care many of these aging moms and dads will be physically well. However, many more will need assistance from family members to navigate daily life.

Due to their numbers, this age cohort of seniors will place significant elder care obligations on their still-working adult children.

Elder care obligations will also place a significant burden on their employers. One estimate puts the additional costs to employers of employees who double as unpaid caregivers at $13.4 billion annually.

Employers Unprepared For Elder Care Crisis

But if providing eldercare-related benefits is any indication, few employers seem to be prepared for the coming storm.

Some appear to be digging heads deeper into the sand.

Referral to elder care professionals is one such benefit that about a quarter of employers provided as recently as 2006. Since then the share of such referral programs has shrunk dramatically.

Virtually no employer reported planning to begin new elder care benefits in 2012. Complaints of discrimination by employers against care-giving employees are on the rise, according to a recent AARP report.

That employers will be adversely impacted seems as unmistakable a trend as the senior demographic boom itself.

A 2011 study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, a think tank on aging issues, estimates that 25% of all adult children, mostly baby boomers, already provide personal care or financial assistance to a parent — a number that has tripled during the last 15 years.

The Pew Research Center predicts the national dependency ratio (children and the elderly) will grow from 59 per 100 working adults in 2005 to 72 per 100 by 2050. Virtually all of the increase attributable to the growth of the senior population.

The financial costs, according to MetLife, will be staggering. “The total estimated aggregate lost wages, pension, and Social Security benefits of these caregivers of parents is nearly $3 trillion.”

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