By 2030, the United States will be faced with a family-caregiver shortage, according to a new analysis by AARP. The Caregiver Action Network is already working to ease the burden and reach out to new audiences not typically associated with the caregiver role.
The caregiver support ratio—the number of potential caregivers aged 45-64 to persons aged 80 and older—will shrink almost 50 percent in the United States by 2030, according to a new AARP study. The “2030 problem” will see the caregiver ratio, which currently stands at about 7 to 1, fall to 4 to 1. It is expected to fall even further, to 2.9 to 1, by 2050.
“Family caregivers—including family members, partners, or close friends—are a key factor in the ability to remain in one’s home and in the community when disability strikes,” according to the report, published this month by the AARP Public Policy Institute. “More than two-thirds of Americans believe that they will be able to rely on their families to meet their [long-term services and support] needs when they require help, but this belief may collide with the reality of dramatically shrinking availability of family caregivers.”
One association that has been warily watching the trend for some time is the Caregiver Action Network.
“We always knew it was coming, and we’ve been concerned about it,” said CAN CEO John Schall. “This [report] just emphasizes the reality of the situation that we all knew we were going to have to face in the coming years, and it’s a little bit scary, there’s no question about it.”
To begin addressing the issue, CAN has started reaching out to audiences that typically haven’t identified themselves as caregivers.
“In years past, family caregivers have been predominantly women, but we have noticed that changing,” said Schall. “We are getting to more men, and more men are coming into the caregiver role, because the need is so great.”
The group has also been upping its contact with millennials. While the AARP report identifies caregivers as people between the ages of 45 and 64, Schall noted that of the 15 million Americans currently caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, 1 million are millennials.
“Millennials are already been being tapped a little bit into the caregiver role,” Schall said. “We’ve been reaching out to them more to prepare them so it isn’t kind of just waiting until they’re in their 40s and 50s to take on family-caregiving responsibilities.”
CAN is also working to educate employers about the importance of flexible work arrangements that allow employees who are also family caregivers to manage both responsibilities, Schall said. Recent research has shown that employers still approve flextime inconsistently, often favoring requests from male employees.
“Flexibility ensures that caregivers can remain good employees but also handle their caregiving responsibilities,” he said. “And it makes economic sense for the employers, because if they aren’t flexible and the stress on the caregivers increases, the caregivers own health costs go up, and that’ll be an employer cost. Also, losing those employees and trying to find new employees is tough.”
While the AARP study focuses on caregivers, Schall noted that the issue of the aging boomer population will continue to raise its head in many ways. “A lot of people are figuring out that there is a very broad reach to this issue, no question about it,” he said.