January 25, 2024

We Need to Make the Caregiving Crisis a Campaign Issue in 2024

Written By
Suzanne Boutilier

Key Notes:

  • The percentage of Americans over 60 is exploding, with the last of the baby boomers approaching retirement age
  • On average, family members spend over $7K a year to care for an aging loved one, often having to leave their jobs to provide that care
  • Not enough candidates see the Care Crisis as a pressing issue in 2024
  • The 53 million family caregivers in the US can wield huge influence in the 2024 elections
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I’m a 50-something mom of early teens and daughter of a 90-something dad (the late-bloomer gene runs strong in my family). And I can’t wait for the 2024 elections. Because one of the most important issues facing our country is also the one I and my siblings (and according to AARP, about 53 million other unpaid family caregivers) are dealing with every day: the cost of care for our aging loved ones. 

Unfortunately, this recent article on rollcall.com said that a lot of our elected officials don’t see the caregiver crisis as one that needs to be urgently addressed. Are you kidding me? Have they not read about our growing aging population and the health care shortage? I have. And it doesn’t look pretty.

The Caregiving Landscape

The percentage of Americans over 60 is exploding, with the last of the baby boomers approaching retirement age. And that percentage will continue to grow for at least the next 30 years as the percentage of Americans under 18 shrinks.

Growth in aging population
Source: U.S. Census

Meanwhile, our care economy is imploding. Low pay, limited benefits, and restrictive immigration policies have led to a shortage of care workers. And that reduced labor force, in turn, is driving elder care costs up. So who do our policymakers think will care for America’s older adults? Who do they think will care for us?

Before I answer that question, let’s take a look at what a caregiver does.

Caregiving responsibilities are vast and varied. And they change as our family members age. For this reason, some of us become family caregivers so gradually that we don’t even realize that this is what we are.

We may start out helping a parent keep their doctor appointments straight and running errands for them. Then one day, we find that we have to take them to their doctor appointments. Then we start sitting in on those appointments and taking notes to make sure the doctors’ orders are being followed. Soon, we’re setting up pill organizers, doing the housekeeping, and bringing meals over. A lot of these tasks can be done in our free time after work and on the weekends. But the doctor's appointments can take us away from work, assuming our employer has flexible work policies. And the gas costs for all of the errands start to add up.

Other times, a health event or accident makes us a caregiver all of a sudden. A fall, an illness, or an operation might thrust us into our new role, where we find ourselves having to help with activities of daily living (ADLs), like dressing, bathing, toileting, feeding, transferring from bed to chair, and more. In this situation, our loved one needs someone with them all day every day, and sometimes all night, too. If we’re that someone, we’re leaving our jobs, either temporarily or for good. 

In the absence of a working care infrastructure for our aging population, I can only assume that most of our policymakers feel that the many responsibilities and/or expenses of care should fall solely on unpaid family members. It’s every family for themselves. 

The Financial Strain on Family Caregivers

In 2024, the average base room and board for an individual at an assisted living facility is about $4,900/month. Any additional services, such as help with ADLs, medication assistance, memory care, and the like start to add up fast—to the tune of hundreds or thousands of additional dollars per month. At this rate, even older adults who have built up a tidy nest egg can blow through their savings and assets in just a few years. And a few years might not be enough. We’re living longer, but we’re spending more years with expensive health issues. 

What about long term care insurance (LTCI), you ask? It’s great, for the 3% of Americans who have a policy. And again, those policies only pay benefits for a limited time, usually 2-6 years. After that, all of those fees are paid out of pocket—either our loved ones’ or ours. 

To save money, many older adults are choosing instead to remain in the homes they love or move in with a younger adult family member, often a child (most often, a daughter). Since professional caregivers are in short supply, many families are either cobbling together a combination of professional caregivers and unpaid family caregivers to provide the support our loved ones need, or shouldering all of the care ourselves. 

On average, family members who care for an aging loved one are spending over $7,000 of our own money to provide this care. Every year. That’s $7,000 a year that’s coming out of the weekly budgets that keep our families afloat. Or it’s coming out of our savings for our own care needs after we retire. 

Factor in lost wages due to unpaid family leave (only 11 states plus Washington DC offer paid family leave programs), or lost jobs due to full-time care responsibilities, and that $7,000 hit hurts even more. Plus, it's hard to make up for that lost income once we’re able to return to work. Because the employment gap often results in lower salaries.  And remember, while we're unemployed, we're not contributing to our 401(k)s or social security. So our own retirement finances are impacted.

What does all this mean? Well, a lot of us don’t have extra money lying around to pay for our own long-term care insurance policies. Which, in turn, ensures this cycle of financial hardship will be passed down to our kids—or nieces or nephews—when we need care.

We need to break this cycle!

A Call to Action for the 2024 Elections

Things looked hopeful for unpaid caregivers in 2020, when now President Biden included the caregiving crisis on his campaign platform. And as this RollCall.com article points out, the administration released the first national strategy to support family caregivers in 2022. But most of Biden's caregiving agenda was pulled out by Congress, thanks to strong lobbying by business-focused groups that didn’t want their corporate taxes raised to cover the cost of supporting caregivers.

The good news is that the sheer number of family caregivers (53 million, remember?) is enough to wield huge influence in the 2024 elections. I, for one, am reaching out to all of my elected officials—in Washington, D.C., at my State House, and in my county—to tell them that the caregiver crisis must be urgently addressed in 2024. I urge other family caregivers to do the same. 

Not sure who your federal, state, and local elected officials are? You can get their names and contact info at www.usa.gov/elected-officials. Email them. Call them. Share your personal story with them. And ask your candidates about the initiatives they’ll propose to support ALL family caregivers. For example: Paid family leave in every state (only about a dozen states offer this currently), Medicare payments to family caregivers (currently only Medicaid and VA offer this), family caregiver tax credits (like the child tax credit for parents). The solutions are out there. Which ones will they work hard to enact? Once you know where they stand, get out there and vote for the candidates who have family caregivers’ backs. Together, we can help make the change we need.

At RubyWell, we’re paving a path to financial stability for all family caregivers. Our prescription savings tool helps families save up to 80% on prescription costs. Soon, we’ll launch our Medicare Advantage Benefits Navigator, so all family caregivers with a loved one on a Medicare Advantage plan will be able to discover big savings that have gone untapped. Ultimately, we're developing compensation solutions so that every family caregiver will be a paid caregiver.

Was this story helpful for you? Share it with family or friends who can help amplify the voice of family caregivers.

Reviewed By
Suzanne Boutilier

Suzanne Boutilier has been working and writing in the caregiving space since 2021. She also helps her sisters care for their aging father.

Reviewed By
Elyse Dasko

Elyse Dasko is a leading communications strategist in age tech, caregiving and the longevity market.