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Why the Sandwich Generation Isn’t Ready for the Caregiving Crunch

The sandwich generation is comprised of adult children who are caring for both a parent and children of their own. It is in an extremely challenging position. The caregiving crunch may affect this generation more than any other.

The Sandwich Generation

The sandwich generation doesn’t have it easy. Their children’s generation is struggling to achieve financial independence. Rising house prices make it difficult to get on the market; rising rent means that they struggle to make their salaries cover their needs. So the sandwich generation steps in to help out. Nearly 75 percent of American adults say they have given money to a grown child (18 years or over) in the past year.

But the sandwich generation is also under pressure from the other side. Their parents’ generation is reaching old age and needs support too. Nearly 47 percent of American adults between 40 and 50 years old are raising a young child or supporting a grown child financially and has a parent aged 65 years or older. Of these Americans, one in seven is contributing financially to both a child and a senior parent.

The financial burden on this generation is significant. Their parents' generation has reached old age without the ability to pay for their care. In many cases, they rely on their family for unpaid caregiving. Around 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to a senior. Of those caregivers, 95 percent are family members. These unpaid caregivers offer care worth three-times more than Medicare spends on care annually, around half a billion dollars per year.

However, the sandwich generation isn't just offering free care. In many cases, they are also paying for the care of their parents. Nine out of 10 caregivers are contributing financially to their senior loved one's care, at an average of around $7000 per year.

So, the sandwich generation is dealing with a catch-22 situation. They are financially committed to the care of a parent, they could reduce the cost of caregiving by taking time away from work to provide more caregiving themselves, but they are also financially supporting their children, so they can’t afford to step away from their career. And even worse – America is now finding itself in what’s known as a caregiving crunch.

The Caregiving Crunch

The caregiving crunch is a phenomenon caused by the rising number of seniors in American society. Better healthcare and medical science, added to the increased birthrates of the baby boom generation mean we have more senior citizens than ever. More senior citizens need caregivers. The sandwich generation is already overextended between caring for children and senior loved ones. On top of that professional caregivers are close to running at a deficit. The Wall Street Journal quotes a study that estimates that within the next decade, there will be more than three million fewer professional caregivers available than are required.

So what can the sandwich generation do? Their parents need help, their children need help and there is only so much to go around.

Where to Look for Help

If your senior loved one is suddenly in need of a little more help, and you are financially committed to the support of your children, then becoming a fulltime caregiver is not a viable option. Professional in-home care might be the next best thing. Home care can let your loved one age in his own home where he’s comfortable; however, with the threat of the caregiving crunch approaching, will that even be an option?

The answer, with some careful planning, is still more than likely yes. But the time to start planning is now. Three-quarters of the sandwich generation have never discussed the fact that they are contributing financially to care for their senior loved ones, half of them don’t even know how much they have spent.

Start the conversation about care with your loved one early. The longer you wait to have this conversation, the less likely your loved one may engage. Talk to the whole family; be upfront about who can contribute what, whether it's a financial contribution or time spent looking after your loved one. Make sure that financial and legal protections like power of attorney are in place.

Avoid the caregiving crunch by looking for care as early as possible: Don’t wait until your loved one is in dire need. By building a relationship between your loved one and a professional caregiver early, you’re bettering the odds of finding an ideal match.

You’ll want to investigate large, reputable agencies. As the number of available caregivers decreases, so too may the quality of those who are available. A national agency may have more availability, their caregivers will be vetted and should be bonded, licensed, and insured - meaning when your loved one is with the professional caregiver you can concentrate on your other responsibilities knowing that he or she is in good hands.

For more information on financing professional in-home care, read this article.

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