Washington, D.C. — At an event today with Dr. Jill Biden, the Center for American Progress released a new analysis on the challenges facing caregivers and policy solutions that can help address long-term care issues. “Family Matters: Caregiving in America” examines the scope of the challenges that result from the fact that all Americans need care at some point in their lives, but millions of American struggle to find affordable care or balance work and caregiving responsibilities.
“Every single one of us will need care at some point in our lives, and most of us will also find ourselves providing care for a family member or loved one,” said Sarah Jane Glynn, co-author of the issue brief and Associate Director for Women’s Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Yet in most families, all of the adults work outside the home, and many families struggle to afford paid caregivers. We need creative and effective public policy solutions in order to ensure that people are able to provide and receive the care that they need and deserve.”
According to the issue brief, the needs of the 12 million Americans who rely on care range widely and vary by population and community. Support or care can come in the form of self care for people dealing with their own disabilities or serious illnesses; family-coordinated care provided to seriously ill, disabled, or aging relatives by nonprofessionals; and paid care in a facility or at home. Few policies are in place to directly address the self-care needs of employed people with disabilities who may need time away from work to obtain medical treatment or recover from an episodic flare-up of their condition. Similarly, the United States has no set system for helping Americans who require family or paid care.
The challenges facing caregivers across the United States are not getting any easier. The number of Americans who rely on long-term care services will more than double in the coming decades from 12 million people in 2010 to 27 million by 2050, due largely to aging Baby Boomers. More startlingly, the ratio of potential caregivers—adults ages 45 to 64—to people age 80 and older will decline from 7-to-1 to 3-to-1 in just three decades.
Fortunately, a number of existing proposals serve as a good starting point. Building a streamlined long-term care system that is patient- and family-centered but efficient will require better coordination of care across services. We also need to help ensure that Americans are financially prepared to shoulder the costs of long-term care so that they are not forced into debt or bankruptcy. Lastly, we must acknowledge that family members will continue to play an important role as unpaid caregivers in our communities and empower them with paid family leave and workplace flexibility so they will never have to choose between their job and their family.
Despite the best efforts of some policymakers and health care innovators, it is unlikely that we will see a drop in the need for informal and unpaid caregivers anytime soon. Consequently, it is especially important for workers to have access to benefits such as workplace flexibility and paid family leave should they need to take time to care for themselves or a loved one. Supporting caregivers with these policies will go a long way in recognizing our invaluable informal care community and increasing cost savings for taxpayers.
Read the issue brief: Family Matters: Caregiving in America by Sarah Jane Glynn and Jane Farrell
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