Stuck in the middle with you . . . and you . . . and you

Primary source : Amanda Toler Woodward, February 3, 2016

I’ve talked about caregiving for older adults in earlier posts, most recently on profiles of different types of caregivers.  But of course elder care doesn’t happen in a vacuum separate from other social obligations.


The sandwich generation – people who care for children and older adults at the same time –  knows this well.

According to a recent study using data from the American Time Use Survey, almost one third of people in the US provide some form of informal care.

Three percent of those are in the sandwich generation. They spend close to three hours a day on average in providing care. Most of that time is spent by women and most of it is spent on childcare.

Of course these are averages. They dilute the reality for those in the thick of it who may be helping an aging parent, sick spouse, or child with a disability for eight or more hours a day.

But they do allow us to make some projections about what lies ahead.

No one should be surprised that the gap between time spent providing care and the amount of care needed is growing.

Assuming everyone keeps doing what they’re doing, we’ll need about 1.3 million more care workers – home health aides, childcare workers, and personal care aides by 2050.  That’s a 50% increase which doesn’t seem impossible given we’ve got several decades to do it.

It does, however, require some planning and investment in the future rather than short-term gains – something that seems to be in short supply right now.

Workforce development is important, but this post is about informal care.  Policies like nationally subsidized universal childcare and elder care, flexible work schedules, and medical leave programs for informal caregivers would be helpful.

They would give households more choice about who works in what kinds of jobs and how much.  They could give people more freedom to take some risks, maybe start a new business, or try something really innovative.  These kinds of policies help families and the rest of us too.

I’m sure you have noticed that there is a presidential election this year.  Support for informal caregivers may not be a hot topic in debates and television ads, but it does come up indirectly in discussions of health care, jobs, and living wages.

Maybe it be should be discussed more directly as well.

What policies and programs would you like to see for informal caregivers?

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Amanda Toler Woodward
Amanda Toler Woodward is an associate professor in the MSU School of Social Work. Her goal is to share reflections on a wide range of topics related to aging research, social work, academia, and whatever else catches her fancy.
Amanda Toler Woodward

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