A Looming Caregiving Crisis

Baby boomers—the vast cohort born between 1946 and 1964—are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day. Some are leaving the workplace because they can swing it financially, but others are forced out by poor health, a layoff, or the need to be a caregiver for a friend or family member. With the oldest boomers entering their 70s, they, too, will soon need care. When that time comes, who will take care of them?  Unless there are changes, the U.S. will have a caregiving crisis on its hands within the next decade.

Last fall, we asked Marla Beck, founder of professional home care provider Andelcare, to speak at our inaugural Speaker Series event. I was struck by Beck’s experience—her biggest challenge is finding qualified caregivers for her clients. The demand for care far outpaces the supply of paid home care workers and certified nursing assistants, hence unpaid friends and family members are increasingly forced to fill the gap.

The other day, I came across an opinion piece in Reuters, The future of U.S. caregiving: High demand, scarce workers, which cited the work of Paul Osterman, a human resources and elder care expert. Osterman’s research reinforces Beck’s observation. He finds that by 2030, there will be a national shortage of 151,000 paid direct care workers and 3.8 million unpaid family caregivers. By 2040, the professional caregiver shortfall will reach 355,000, and the family and friends shortfall will be a “shocking” 11 million.

Osterman goes on to explain the reasons for this shortfall, including poor pay and benefits; systemic issues with Medicaid and Medicare; and recent restrictions on immigration, which has long been a source of qualified care workers.

Osterman also says that job training needs to improve, noting that caregiving workers receive only about two weeks of training. This low bar undermines their legitimacy with doctors, nurses, and insurance companies. Better training could raise wages, increasing respectability and attracting more workers.

Boomers represent an enormous demographic. Most had smaller families than previous generations. That means we won’t be able to rely on the “family and friends” caregiving model for much longer. If we want to avert a crisis, something has to give.