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Caregiving Is Forcing Women 50+ to Leave the Workforce

Most family caregivers feel their career has taken a hit

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Featured Expert

Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report

When employers force their employees with caregiving duties to choose between work and family, everyone loses. This can be particularly true for women, who still make up 60 percent of the family caregiver population (though men are increasingly shouldering the responsibility).

Two out of every five adults — tens of millions of Americans — are family caregivers of loved ones. Most of the people caring for someone at home are also working full- or part-time jobs. But increasingly, working women over 50 are leaving their jobs in order to provide the necessary care.

Stepping Away From Work for Caregiving

After studying 18 years of data, Sean Fahle of the State University in Buffalo and Kathleen McGarry of UCLA recently found that taking care of a parent significantly reduces the chances that women in their early 50s to early 60s are working, according to the Squared Away blog from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.

“We see a precipitous decline in earnings with caregiving” and a “significant effect of caregiving on the probability of work,” the authors wrote. The steady decline in labor force participation among the caregiving women is due solely to a decline in full-time employment.

We see a precipitous decline in earnings with caregiving and a significant effect of caregiving on the probability of work, the authors wrote.

This important study discovered that one-third of boomer women are currently caring for an elderly parent, devoting eight to 30 hours per week to caregiving in addition to their time at work. Caregiving for parents peaks in the mid 50s, the authors say.

At the Caregiver Action Network, we’ve seen that all this caregiving can have a tremendous financial impact, not to mention the emotional and physical stress. Most caregivers feel their career is negatively impacted by their caregiving situation.

That’s more than just a belief; the impact is very real. Losses can come in the shape of lost wages or in sacrifices of future pay raises or promotions.

Grim Statistics for Working Women Who Are Caregivers

The Fahle and McGarry study confirms some rather grim statistics from other sources about working women who are caregivers:

  • The average income lost by caregivers each year is a whopping 33 percent.
  • Caregivers pay for many caregiving expenses out of their own pockets, to the tune of $10,000 a year.
  • Overall, 11 percent of caregivers end up having to quit their job to care for someone at home around-the-clock.
  • If a woman does have to leave her job due to caregiving needs, the lost wages, pensions and Social Security benefits over her lifetime total more than $300,000.

Far too often, women may leave a job in order to provide care if they are not supported or accommodated at work. But if they drop out of the labor, it can become quite difficult for them to rejoin the workforce once their caregiving obligations have ceased.

This is unfortunate, and employers could do a lot to prevent such situations. Trying to retain highly-trained and valuable employees is good for business and everyone involved.

A Few Firms Are Assisting Caregiving Employees

The giant professional service firm Deloitte clearly gets it. Deloitte recently began offering employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave for all caregiving, including elder care.

And a few months ago, Nike said it would offer up to eight weeks of paid leave for workers caring for a sick relative.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. But it doesn’t apply to businesses with fewer than 50 employees and part-time workers typically are not eligible.

As Americans are living longer, the issue of how to juggle work and caregiving is becoming increasingly important. The number of adult children caring for an elderly parent has tripled over just the past 15 years. And the population of 35 million elders will double by 2030. So the number of people who need elder care will continue to grow rapidly as the population ages.

Family caregiving is today’s issue just as child care was in the 1980s. Employers need to recognize and accommodate the reality that so many workers today have significant caregiving responsibilities at home.

Because when it comes to choosing between work and family, there is really no choice at all.

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