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Caregivers are struggling to handle work and family duties. Employers can offer more help.


Some are reducing hours, or simply leaving jobs, because of the difficulties in managing work and caregiving, according to a survey by AARP and S&P Global. Employers can do more to help workers.

The strain of being a caregiver plays out in a variety of ways.

Image credit: ©kawee - stock.adobe.com

Many Americans are struggling to deal with the responsibilities of their work and caring for loved ones, according to a new survey by AARP and S&P Global.

For those responsible for caring for a parent, or any adult relative, caregiving takes a financial toll and can disrupt careers. A new report by AARP and S&P Global offers insights on the difficulties for caregivers, and suggests employers need to do better to support workers.

The report focuses on those caring for adult family members, as opposed to parents raising children, although the report notes many Americans find themselves with taking care of kids and aging parents.

Two out of three caregivers (67%) say they are struggling to balance their jobs with caregiving responsibilities, the survey found. More than a quarter (27%) have moved from full-time positions to part-time roles, and about 1 in 6 (16%) have stopped working because of their duties as caregivers.

Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and director of AARP Public Policy Institute, warns that this challenge is only going to grow, as more Americans are turning 65 than ever before.

“As the population grows older, more families have members with caregiving needs who need help,” Reinhard said in an online news conference about the report. “This means that a growing number of family caregivers look after family members of various ages at the same time.”

The AARP estimates that there are 48 million caregivers in America, and well over half (61%) are working. Most are spending at least 20 hours per week caring for loved ones.

Feeling penalized

AARP and S&P surveyed 1,200 individuals who were providing at least 6 hours of care for adult family members per week. The individuals came from large employers, identified as having more than 1,000 workers.

Employers can help their workers with caregiver responsibilities by offering flexibility in scheduling, including the ability to work remotely or on hybrid schedules, the report suggests.

But in a noteworthy finding, remote workers say they were more likely to feel penalized for having caregiving responsibilities than those working in an office. Nearly half (49%) of remote workers said they felt discriminated against for caregiving duties, compared to 29% of those working in an office or on a mixed schedule of remote and in-person work.

Companies can also recognize the stress that caregivers of adult loved ones are facing.

Four out of five respondents (80%) said companies tended to be more understanding when workers had childcare issues than responsibilities taking care of adult family members.

The financial toll

Caregivers are also facing higher costs, even as some are earning less as they reduce their work hours due to their family responsibilities.

Caregivers spend more than $7,200 annually taking care of relatives. Typically, caregivers spend 4.5 years taking care of an adult family member, meaning adults spend $33,000 over that span, Reinhard said.

Those costs are more difficult for those earning less, said Alexandra Dimitrijevic, co-chair of S&P Global Research Council.

Those with lower incomes are “disproportionately affected or find it more stressful or more difficult to indeed combine their work responsibilities and their adult caregiving,” Dimitrijevic said during the media call.

Higher costs aren’t helping matters. Among working caregivers providing more than 21 hours of care each week, more than 1 in 3 (37%) said inflation was adding to their struggle.

“Inflation is presenting another challenge for working caregivers,” Reinhard said.

Women were roughly twice as likely to say they were experiencing career impacts due to their role as caregivers. The survey found 21% of women said their caregiving duties affected their career, compared to 11% of men.

Lack of understanding

Employers appeared to be less understanding in certain situations, the report found.

Less than a third of respondents (31%) said they felt penalized for caring for a parent or parent-in-law, but nearly half (48%) perceived they were being discriminated against for having caregiving duties for a sibling.

The perceptions of penalties were “surprisingly high” among those caring for a spouse or partner, the report stated.

Almost half (45%) of those with caregiving duties for a spouse or partner said they felt discriminated against. That’s significant because more than a quarter (28%) of all those with caregiving duties are taking care of a spouse or partner, according to the report.

Need for training

Many caregivers don’t feel up to the task of taking care of adult family members, especially those with more complex conditions.

When asked about the availability of training for caregivers, Reinhard said, “It’s not wide enough, that’s for sure.”

The AARP provides some educational materials for caregivers. But Reinhard notes that many caregivers are so busy between work and family duties that they don’t know about training materials, or have the time to search for them.

“Caregivers are so overwhelmed as we said with the working and the taking care of things they're really not able to take advantage of some of the training that is available to them,” Reinhard said.

Healthcare professionals should recognize that caregivers are going to need thorough instruction on taking care of loved ones with more complex conditions.

“I feel very strongly that healthcare professionals, social service professionals need to anticipate, just assume, that they need information and training,” Reinhard said.

Most will need help

U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra participated in the call and said the Biden administration is working to help Americans who are caregivers.

“Nearly all of us at some point are going to need help, and we should recognize that we should be planning as a country to have policies in place to make sure no one goes without the support and help that they need,” Becerra said.

Becerra also pointed to the need for better pay for home care workers. He noted that some can earn more money “flipping burgers” than working for a company offering care at home.

Other studies have found that caregiving duties can take a financial toll on Americans, particularly women.

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a program established by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined the gender pay gap. Some of that is tied to women taking on the role of caring for loved ones.

During a 2022 forum, Corin Reyes, a registered nurse and the director of health equity for the YWCA San Antonio, said women end up taking jobs with employers that accommodate their caregiving duties.

“They tend to go for the flexible jobs. Flexible jobs pay less,” Reyes said. “They’re going to take the lower paying job to get that flexibility.”

How employers can help

Flexible schedules make a big difference to caregivers. Among caregivers who had access to flexible schedules, 80% said they used those schedules. The vast majority (84%) of those who used flexible scheduling said they appreciated that option.

In addition to offering caregivers more flexible schedules and the freedom to work remotely, employers can take other steps to help workers caring for loved ones.

  • Offer paid leave, or flexible leave, for caregivers
  • Provide access to support groups and financial and career counseling
  • Make sure employers who are caregivers are aware of all benefits and policies
  • Train managers on being inclusive and respectful of their caregivers

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