As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, its time to start thinking about the golden years and beyond.According to a report titled The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap that was recently released by AARP, this generation will be experiencing a shortage of caregiving personnel in the next couple of decades. By the year 2030, it is projected that each person age 80 or older will have access to only four potential caregivers, as compared to seven in 2010. The number of available caregivers is set to be three per person over 80 by 2050. This is a serious matter because at present, only about 14 percent of potential caregivers (who are defined as anyone between the ages of 45 and 64) actually function in the capacity of caring for someone 80 years old or more. Nine percent of potential caregivers take care of someone in their sixties or seventies, and seven percent take care of someone between the ages of 18 and 59.
Analyzing The 2030 Problem
This issue has been termed the 2030 problem by researchers and it derives from several factors such as the number of baby boomers reaching retirement age and the fact that this generation on average had much fewer children per couple than previously. The increase in prospected longevity for men and women is also a contributing factor. The baby boomer generation includes anyone born between 1946 and 1964, which numbered some 78 million people in 2010. Around 60 million of this generation are expected to still be living in 2030, with 20 million of these making it to 2050. These projections were initially made by REMI, a company involved in economic modeling.
About 42.1 million adults are caring for loved ones in the United States today, and the majority of these people are women. The AARP report determined the average family caregiver to be a working woman of 49 years of age. The average caregiver today spends 20 hours a week or so taking care of her aging parents with no compensation. In 2009, the financial worth of this unpaid care was calculated to be around $450 billion, which topped the cost of Medicaid for the year and nearly reached the cost of Medicare. Twenty years from today, there will be drastically fewer people available to care for a much larger population of elderly people.
An Uncertain Future And A Call To Action
Indeed, the future of todays baby boomers looks increasingly uncertain. It will no longer be realistic for the aging generation to rely on friends and family for support. Long-term care will need to find other facilitators, since family and friends will not be able to meet their aging loved ones needs.
So what should the United States do to help mitigate these concerns? Authors of the report stated that the country requires improved policies that can support caregivers more effectively and establish more affordable home care options. Currently, the expense of home care may be prohibitive to many families, who currently rely on friends and relatives for this necessary support. But friends and relatives are not likely to be such an accessible option in 2030. A federal commission is expected to take up this issue and provide some recommendations on possible home care solutions in the near future.
Since women tend to live a few years longer than men do, they are likely to be more drastically affected than men will be. However, men have also been living longer in recent years and they might even catch up with women. This trend is occurring despite the ever-increasing rates of obesity in the United States. A problem that is unique to the current situation is that a high percentage of baby boomers are now divorced, further complicating caregiving arrangements. At least a third of baby boomers are not married.
Other countries have in general made more of an effort to get the caregiving issue going on the right track and prepare for the future of the aging generations. The United States tends to avoid long-term planning and instead respond to emergency situations when they come up. The caregiving issue projected for 2030 gives the U.S. a good opportunity to switch this habit to the route of preparation in advance. Large demographic issues like this one do not respond well to quick fixes when a crisis situation arises, so it is very important for U.S. policymakers to start considering what needs to be done now. Unfortunately, there is little impetus to deal with the issue at present because it would appear that there are plenty of caregivers. The real emergency will come 15 or 20 years down the road, which is territory that U.S. policymakers often do not step into.
Many baby boomers are now getting a taste of what they may need to deal with in a couple of decades, as they help aging parents, aunts and uncles settle into assisted living facilities or get used to in-home care. Whatever the solution, it can be quite expensive. In-home care is often prohibitively expensive, even for the wealthier of families, if it goes on for more than a couple of years. A high-quality nursing home can also cost a fortune. However, the less expensive alternatives can sometimes be of agonizingly low quality. For this reason, baby boomers often try to mitigate costs by caring for aging family members on their own time, even though many of them are still working. If these trends keep moving in the same direction, this situation can become extreme, with assisted living facilities of acceptable quality becoming far too expensive for the average family, yet without any alternatives for in-home care provided by family members.
Furthermore, with the economic downturn that has persisted in the past several years, the children of baby boomers do not seem set to achieve the same sort of wealth that the baby boomer generation on average enjoyed. This means that what was expensive for the baby boomers is likely to be unattainable for the younger generation, and the baby boomers already spent a good deal of their income supporting their aging parents. It is important for everyone in the United States to think seriously about these issues and strive to come up with a working solution to mitigate the 2030 problem.
Source: Tara Bahrampour for The Washington Post
Lauren Hill writes for LiftCaregiving, a Richmond, Va. company offering support to caregivers.