Family caregiving has always been an expensive, stressful endeavor but is becoming more so. For the more than 43 million unpaid caregivers in the US, rising healthcare costs, inflation and other key factors are turning up the pressure on families. Let's take a look at the macro trends that are expected to affect caregivers over the next few years.
Every person feels the pinch of inflation, regardless of whether you’re a caregiver. It shows up at the gas pump, where prices have risen 50% since 2019, and at the grocery store, where the average food bill has increased almost 25% during the same period. According to Genworth, the average caregiver spent $10,000 a year on caregiving in 2018, and with inflation that number has likely grown to almost $14,000 today. The impact of this rising cost is increased stress and anxiety as many caregivers struggle to find extra dollars to spend. While inflation has come down since the high of 9% in June 2022, it’s likely to remain somewhat elevated over the next few years and continue to put pressure on caregivers and their families.
Part of the inflation driver is low unemployment and rising wages, which has a dramatic impact on paid caregiving. We often associate family caregiving with those who can’t afford paid caregivers, but that’s not entirely true. According to PHI, there are significantly fewer paid caregivers today than in 2019 due to COVID-19 and one million fewer paid caregivers than will be needed by 2030. There are several reasons for this, but a large driver is that many caregivers left for other industries where the wages were better and the workload much less demanding.
Another driver is that 25% of paid caregivers are immigrants who left the U.S. in the beginning of the pandemic and haven’t returned, according to the Commonwealth Fund. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there will be 80 million people over the age of 65 by 2030, and many of them will need caregiver assistance. Given the current worker shortage and the increasing number of adults who need care, it seems likely that family caregivers will continue to be the backstop for their loved ones until we significantly increase the number of paid caregivers.
This caregiving trend will drive companies to make more permanent workplace changes, which is a benefit for family caregivers. According to Genworth, one out of every three Americans became instant caregivers at the start of COVID, when children and older loved ones moved into their family homes to stay safe. As the pandemic subsided, many have remained at home and created more permanent caregiving situations. For those balancing the responsibility of working and being a caregiver, working from home or hybrid work environments are required. Quiet quitting influenced many companies to reevaluate their workplace strategies and many are now allowing employee scheduling flexibility or job sharing to stave off turnover. In fact, several states, including Maryland, have bills in legislation currently to adopt four-day work weeks for all employees. This experiment may take hold elsewhere and at a minimum is highlighting a shift in how employers and their workers think about work/life balance. As low unemployment forces employers to acquiesce and even further enhance flexibility, this shift will likely continue.
See also: Insurance's New Math
How can employers get involved?
Tied directly to this new work norm are enhanced employee caregiving benefits. These benefits include robust employee assistance programs (EAP), enhanced mental health benefits, caregiving and daycare assistance and other benefits meant to help ease the burden on caregivers. Employers are more aware than ever that employee caregivers represent a large portion of their workforce and require more assistance to stay on the job. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, over 60% of these workers had some type of job change during their careers due to caregiving responsibilities, and employers are now paying attention. Evolving caregiving benefits are something we expect to see continue in the workplace and could even accelerate as more companies fight for quality employees and increased productivity.
It would be impossible to talk about enhancements in caregiving without highlighting the role technology plays. Whether it comes in the shape of new smart home devices, which enable caregivers to virtually watch their loved ones while they’re at work, or new smartphone apps that let families share the caregiving responsibilities, there is more available today than ever before.
Most aging adults want to stay in their home as long as possible, and these advancements are helping them achieve this goal. Future enhancements can be expected in wearable technology, robotics and exoskeletons, which can help aging adults with mobility issues. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will also play a key role in decoding age-related decline and help change the aging trajectory. These are just some of the ways technology will continue to play a vital role in aging in place and caregiving.
The macro trends discussed in this article are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s in store for our aging population and the caregivers who assist them. We can expect new entrants into these categories to push incumbent companies harder and drive more innovation, all of which will benefit the family caregiver and their loved ones.