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More Support for Older Caregivers Could Boost U.S. Economy

AARP finds that flexible work, paid time off, other policies could add $1.7 trillion by 2030

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Many family caregivers are familiar with the financial impact of trying to balance the responsibilities of their jobs and careers with their duties caring for their loved ones. But with more than 48 million caregivers across the country, those personal costs can add up to a massive toll on the nation's economy.

New research from AARP finds that if employers and governments enacted more supports for working family caregivers age 50 and older, not only would the productivity of these workers increase, but the policies also could cause the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by as much as $1.7 trillion by 2030. That economic boost could grow to $4.1 trillion by 2050.

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"Looking at the people who are taking care of somebody, many of them either have to reduce their hours [at work], they may get passed over for a promotion, or they leave the workforce entirely,” said Deb Whitman, AARP executive vice president and chief public policy officer, during a March 26 event with Forbes magazine to discuss the results of the research. “If we could stop that [from happening], our economy would grow."

AARP's new analysis used data from two of the organization's research projects, its “Longevity Economy(R) outlook” survey and its “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020” report. The two surveys identified workers age 50 and older who had to leave the workforce, reduce their working hours or pass up a promotion due to caregiving responsibilities.

The new analysis then used economic projections to determine how much GDP would grow if employers and governments offered better supports for these caregivers. For example, the economy could retain 10.7 million jobs in 2030 just by providing working family caregivers age 50-plus with policies that offered them more support. And because they were earning income, these working family caregivers could then spend an additional 7 percent by 2030 on technology products, financial services and insurance, transportation services, and motor vehicles, according to AARP's analysis.

The report also examines the disparities among older adults who are working while also serving as family caregivers. Women are the majority of family caregivers, and they often experience more adverse employment consequences than men as a result of caregiving. Older employed women are more likely than men to cut back on hours, take a leave of absence or drop out of the labor force because of caregiving responsibilities.

Silver lining of pandemic

Workplace policies that support family caregivers include options such as flexible hours, telework options, paid time off and family medical leave, affordable backup care and referrals to community resources. Many employers implemented some of these policies temporarily in 2020 as more companies shifted to working from home to deter the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The question now is how these employers will apply their pandemic practices and experiences to their workforce once more companies are able to reopen their offices.

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The telework options many workers received due to COVID-19 offered “a huge benefit for family caregivers to be available for their loved ones and have flexible work so they can take them to their appointments and other things they need,” Whitman said during the event. “I hope that [flexibility] continues and so five years from now this won't be a blip where everybody knew that it could get done and then we forgot that it actually worked."

"One advantage of COVID is it did shine that light on family caregiving,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP's executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, said during the event. “Probably many people who didn't think they were family caregivers — they might be driving their parents or their grandparents to a doctor's appointment, or doing grocery shopping — kind of suddenly, it came into focus that indeed they were part of the 38 million” who are family caregivers.

"It's very important that the corporate or employer culture recognizes family caregivers and knows that people may be giving their all to the mission of the organization every day, but at the same time, they have other family responsibilities,” LeaMond said.

Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers, and Congress for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.

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