Millennials officially became the nation’s largest generation last year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. These energetic, digital natives are influencing everything from how we work to how we communicate. But life isn’t exactly a bed of roses as they come into their own as young adults.
This generation earns lower incomes, is less likely to own a home, and has lower net wealth than their parents’ generation at the same stage in life. And, as their Baby Boomer parents age, we can add family caregiving responsibilities to the list — either now or in the not too distant future.
Recent research shows that a surprising one-quarter of Millennials are family caregivers — a growing segment of the 40 million Americans who take care of a loved one — helping them live independently at home where they want to be. Combine with the fact that 83 percent of new mothers are Millennials, they are the new “sandwich generation” engaged in a precarious balancing act. According to a poll we conducted, four-in-ten Millennials already say that they are worried about taking care of their parents on a day-to-day basis.
We have both personally seen the importance of Millennials stepping up as caregivers for an ailing family member in our own lives. Nancy’s two millennial sons are helping her care for her husband, their father, who has ALS. Jen’s father recently passed away after a ten-year battle with heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
What family caregivers do is extraordinary — adult children taking care of their parents, husbands and wives caring for their spouses, mothers and fathers caring for adult children, other family members, friends, and neighbors helping a loved one. It can be mentally, physically, and emotionally draining, with everyday duties like bathing and dressing their loved one, preparing and feeding meals, arranging transportation, handling financial, healthcare and legal matters, as well as complex medical tasks like wound care. Many family caregivers are working full time and raising families. They are often on call 24/7.
Caregiving is also a financial strain. A recent AARP study found that family caregivers spend an average of $6,954 on out-of-pocket costs related to caregiving, nearly 20 percent of their annual income. And some are spending much more as a percentage of what they earn. Hispanic/Latino caregivers, and those making less than $32,500 a year, report that 44 percent of their income goes to caregiving expenses. For African-Americans, it’s 34 percent.
Our organizations are working together on this issue because family caregiving is something that touches us all, across generations. We are either family caregivers now, have been in the past, will be in the future – or will need care ourselves one day. That’s the simple truth. Family caregiving also bridges political divides. It’s not a Democratic or Republican issue — it’s a family issue.
Thankfully, Congress is considering taking an important first step to make the responsibility of family caregiving a little bit easier. In the last Congress, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation (called the RAISE Family Caregivers Act) that would develop a national strategy to support family caregivers, bringing together stakeholders from the private and public sectors to identify specific actions communities, providers, government, employers and others can take to make it easier to coordinate care for a loved one, get information, referrals and resources, and improve respite options so family caregivers can reset and recharge.
Unfortunately, the U.S. House did not act on this commonsense bill in the last Congress. We hope it will be enacted into law this year.
And as Congress weighs reforming the tax code, it has an opportunity to enact the Credit for Caring Act, bipartisan legislation that would create a federal tax credit of up to $3,000 for eligible family caregivers who provide financial assistance for their loved ones while also working.
Without a doubt, family caregivers are the backbone of our care system. It’s time to pass commonsense solutions to give them the support they need and deserve.
Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer and EVP of the Community, State & National Affairs Group, leads government relations, advocacy, public education, volunteerism, and multicultural engagement and drives AARP's social mission on behalf of Americans 50-plus and their families.
Jen Mishory is the executive director of Young Invincibles, a young adult research and advocacy organization working to expand economic opportunity for our generation.