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New AARP report highlights the value of family caregivers and how to support them

In their “Valuing the Invaluable” series of reports, AARP has released data about caregivers in the U.S., including information about how it impacts Latinos.

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For many, juggling a full time job, rearing children, and caring for aging parents is a regular part of their day to day life. But by taking a step back, the full picture of the impact these people have, what their unique struggles are, and what is being done to support them can become clear.

In a new report released by the AARP, researchers analyze the nation’s family caregivers: those who provide care for elderly family members with no compensation.

Titled “Valuing the Invaluable 2023,” the report looks at the care provided by family members for one another, how that impacts them, the economy, and what can be done to address their needs.

To translate the labor done by these caregivers into an economic value, the nation’s 38 million family caregivers produce effectively $600 billion in value through their work, totalling 36 billion hours worked, with an average value of $16.79 an hour as; this year’s value of labor produced increasing by $130 billion up from last year.

“Family caregivers are the backbone of long-term care in this country,” said Susan Reinhard, one of the lead authors of the report and senior vice president of the AARP Public Policy Institute, in a statement.

AARP’s data estimates that by 2034, adults aged 65 and older will outnumber children under the age of 18 for the first time in the nation’s history.

The ‘Sandwich Generation’

As more and more of the U.S.’s aging population receives care, many of these caregivers are in the same house as children or grandchildren at the same time as they provide care to both groups.

The generation in this dual caretaker role has been given the name “the sandwich generation,” for being pressed in between these two generations needing care. Oftentimes however, they are the ones left to manage the entirety of the healthcare process by themselves.

“The care they provide is invaluable to those receiving it. But this is not just a family issue: it impacts communities, employers, and our health and long-term care systems,” Reinhard said.

In order to raise awareness of the programs available and whether a caregiver would be eligible for the aid they offer, AARP has been reaching out through social media, searching for community posts as an outlet to connect with those in need.

Other methods include virtual meetings and webinars, and planning culturally tailored outreach campaigns for different communities.

For multicultural families, there is a growing need for caregivers to understand the specific cultural differences and support needs that come with each culture.

Among Latino caregivers, they were on average younger than other demographic groups. For Black caregivers, they tended to have the least amount of paid healthcare.

Asian Americans reported that they were free to let someone else handle caregiving, but that they had no choice but to do it themselves; LGBTQ caregivers felt the most isolated and strained as they provided care.

Due to the pandemic, the direct care workforce experienced a shortage, pushing families to provide care themselves.

This care ranges from simple transportation and assistance, to navigating the healthcare industry and providing complex medical care, such as intravenous support or multiple medications.

For 61% of caregivers, this extra level of attention is another responsibility added on to their full-time job. In taking care of their families, they stand to risk losing income, career opportunities, and savings, leading to lower Social Security and retirement benefits.

After the Analysis

As AARP has gathered and analyzed this information, they have created a list of recommendations for policy and lawmakers to enact to help ease the burdens carried by caregivers.

The first involves the National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers, a plan created to support family caregivers, regardless of the age of the care recipient, covering multiple vital segments of care, including health care, social support, and economic factors.

This plan details actions that can be taken across all levels of government and the private sector, both those currently underway and those not yet enacted, listing the steps needed to be taken to reach the outlined goals and outcomes of the National Strategy.

AARP also advises that as the National Strategy is enacted, measures must be taken to ensure that all publicly funded programs and caregiver support services will take into account the diverse needs of caregivers from different cultures.

The second is to ease the financial burden placed on caregivers through financial assistance and relief through federal or state tax credit. Additionally, these policymakers should determine which reforms, if any, and protect and improve Social Security benefits for caregivers, and enact them.

AARP's final recommendation for policymakers is the strengthening of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which permits employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave if they have a specified family or medical reason. 

This expansion would include state level FMLA's as well; currently only 11 states have paid day policies.

Furthermore, AARP calls on policymakers to expand protections to apply to all workplaces and primary caregivers, including those caring for kin and longtime friends as currently, only eligible employees working for covered employers can benefit from an FMLA.

In addition, they urge policymakers to ensure that these absent days from work would be paid, allowing lower income families to afford taking the time to provide care as needed.

“We must treat family caregivers as the valuable resource that they are by providing them the support they need to care for loved ones while also caring for themselves,” Reinhard concluded.

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