Caregiving and Retirement Security

Caregiving and long-term care needs threatens the long-term economic security of millions of American families. Yet recent political debates have left the issue largely unaddressed.

Campaigns and elections reveal a lot about the currency of issues considered by the electorate.  But topics not raised in a debate are also revelatory because they fill the white space of needs left unaddressed.

During one of the last democratic debates, candidates discussed Medicare for All, the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, the primacy of corporations, wealth concentration, the erosion of America’s reputation abroad, and reproductive rights.  These topics will continue to outline Democratic priorities.

But it was striking that only one candidate addressed an issue that affects over 50 percent of the population; caregiving and long-term care needs.  Although this issue was given little attention, the stress of caregiving and its nexus to retirement security threatens the long-term economic security of families as much as wage stagnation and the cost of health care.  If we continue projecting solutions to this issue into the future and fail to address it, we will sabotage the economic security of much of the U.S. population, particularly women who provide unpaid care for family.

It is estimated that over 43.5 million people provide unpaid care for an adult child or family member1. It is also estimated that 75% of these caregivers are female, spending as much as 50% more time providing care than males with an estimated economic value of $470 billion in 20132. With respect to age demographics, the average caregiver is 49.2 years old, in other words – a woman in midlife3. Increasingly, millennials provide care as well; AARP has estimated more than 10 million young people – roughly one in four – are caregivers.

Although caregiving cuts across ethnicity and race, Prudential reported in 2018 that higher rates occur in communities of color:

Latino Americans: 35%
Black Americans: 33%
Asian Americans: 32%
White Americans: 22%

Caregivers by ethnicity (Prudential Financial Wellness Census The Cut, 2018)

So, to recap the last debate –

43.5 million, or roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population is providing care for a family member and only one candidate in a field of twelve mentioned long-term care needs.

Women in midlife are often sandwiched between caregiving and their own retirement horizon with little help from policymakers to help them prepare. The economics of caregiving are troubling for retirement. Ten million caregivers over age 50 who care for their parents, also lose an estimated $3 trillion in wages, pensions, retirement funds, and benefits. Lost wages for women who leave the workforce early because of caregiving responsibilities average $142,693. The total costs for women – including Social Security, defined benefit or defined contribution plans are higher because women lose an estimated $324,044 due to caregiving, compared to men at $283,7164.

Greater attention is needed to this issue.  At over 50 percent of U.S. population, women provide a huge subsidy to the economy while simultaneously facing peril in their economic lives.  While it is true that wage stagnation, wealth concentration, and the reputation of the United States among our allies are critical issues, the effect of caregiving and long-term care needs has been largely absent from debate.

During upcoming debates, every person considering pocketbook issues should take time to listen for how the presidential candidates intend to address these issues with a coordinated plan of practical action, in public policy and market-based solutions.  The economic security of families is too important for this to wait.

1 – National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2015
2 – Institute on Aging. (2016)
3 – Family Caregiver Alliance
4 – MetLife Mature Market Group, National Alliance for Caregiving, and the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging. (2010). The MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Costs: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for their Parents.

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