COVID-19 and the emerging employee caregiving crisis
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the over-65 age group will grow from 55 million in 2020 to more than 70 million by 2030. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term careservices and support in their remaining years.
To keep pace with population growth in the 65+ age group, the United States will need more paid caregivers. PHI’s Workforce Data Center projects that for in-home care jobs alone, some 4,738,000 positions will become availablein the decade spanning 2018-2028. This figure reflects an anticipated attrition (retirements, new jobs, etc.) of nearly 3.7 million and the need for more than one million new caregiving positions.
It is possible that the U.S. will not meet this quota. Should this come to pass, the lack of professional/paid caregivers may place added strains on informal/unpaid caregivers, who historically have been family members.
The trend of family members serving as primary caregivers already is well-established. Seventy percent of care recipients rely on family caregivers out of necessity because they have no other means to care for themselves. And now, a new challenge has entered the picture: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not surprisingly, the impact on caregivers has been profound. According to the Genworth Caring in COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Survey 18% of respondents were suddenly obligated to spend more time providing assistance to a loved one who is either older or in a vulnerable health category. The average time investment is an onerousnine hours per week.
Eighteen percent may not seem overwhelming, but it translates to tens of millions of individuals becoming sudden, unplanned caregivers. Many, of course, may have already been providing unpaid caregiving to a loved one, meaning the pandemic simply exacerbated an already time- and energy- consuming situation.
Many family caregivers (54%) also are balancing a full- or part-time job. Here, uncertainty lingers, particularly pertaining to precisely where that job will be performed. Will their job continue to be home-based, or will they need to head back to an office? And if the latter, how safe is it considering their frequent contact with an elderly loved one who, by their very age, is considered especially at-risk for serious health consequences should they contract COVID- 19?
The coronavirus is likely to change the future of life in the U.S. in any number of ways, including various aspects of caregiving. If there is a silver lining, it may be that the pandemic has pushed the need to address the U.S. caregiving crisis to the forefront.
What employers can do
To adequately adapt to the workforce’s evolving caregiving needs, employers may be more open to reexamining company policies and benefits. With COVID-19 creating a new normal, employees may need benefits that can help them find care for their aging loved ones so they can focus on their work. Offering attractive benefits that meet employee caregiving needs can help set a company apart — a tool to help attract and retain top talent, lower absenteeism, increase productivity and reduce turnover.
Fortunately, benefits programs exist that leverage national networks of health care professionals and facilities, providing employees unlimited access to personalized care advice and help finding suitable care solutions for their aging loved ones. Caregiving benefits assist workers with many tasks that, by and large, employee caregivers simply aren’t qualified to handle. For starters, the journey will only be as successful as the road map. In terms of caregiving, this means conducting a care recipient assessment that objectively assesses care needs so that effective, customized caregiving plans can be developed.
Professionals with expertise in caregiving are better equipped to identify and assess provider options, determine provider availability and negotiate rates based on knowledge of typical care costs. Other helpful caregiving tools that employers can provide as part of a benefits program include education of outside resources that may be free, in addition to legal and financial counseling programs.
COVID-19 has pushed employers toward a number of new norms. One of those should be taking better care of employee caregivers.