When an older woman takes care of a loved one, it can be at the expense of the caregiver’s physical, emotional, and financial health. Many women end up in poverty in retirement because they had to leave the workforce at the peak of their careers to care for someone. With more than 40 million people in America serving as unpaid caregivers for family members and most of the caregivers being women, we need to understand how caregiving can impact older women.
Caregiving Affects Our Entire Economy
When you have tens of millions of workers or former workers who have to reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce because a family member needs care, the caregivers face poverty, but our overall economy suffers as well. Whenever significant numbers of people are unemployed or under-employed, the economy loses those wages, the income taxes and everything that the person would have bought, if fully employed.
Caregivers Take a Hit on Social Security Benefits
The amount you receive in monthly Social Security retirement benefits will depend on several factors, including:
- Your average wages for your 35 highest-earning years. Making less money a year because of caregiving will lower your Social Security check when you retire. If you have to quit work to take care of a family member before working for 35 years, those missed years will count as zero earnings, which can slash the amount of your average wages. Since our last working years tend to be when we make the most money, missing out on these years will leave you with a check based on things like your jobs during college.
- When you retire. If you start collecting benefits early, your monthly Social Security check will be much smaller than if you can wait until full retirement age. If you can wait beyond your full retirement age, you will get a bonus added to every Social Security check you ever receive. The bonus gets larger the longer you wait to start collecting benefits, until age 70, when there is no additional bonus. You will still collect the bonuses for the rest of your life, but they will not increase in size, except for things like cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).
The Physical and Emotional Toll of Caregiving
Being responsible for someone with fragile health puts a mountain of stress on your shoulders. Unless you have a large, involved family nearby, you might be carrying this responsibility by yourself. Imagine what would happen to an ICU nurse who was on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Before long, her health would suffer.
The physical and emotional exhaustion would be unbearable, yet millions of Americans call that description everyday life. When a caregiver who had to leave her job gets sick, she often does not have health insurance. Her medical bills then add to her already overwhelming stress.
Are There Solutions to the Caregiver Problem?
Most developed countries offer better supports to families, who have a person with care needs. As a result, women can stay in their labor force in much higher numbers, which helps the family’s income and the country’s overall economy. Without additional supports, American caregivers face a bleak future.
Talk with an elder law attorney near you to see if your state’s regulations differ from the general law of this article.
AARP. “The Trickle-Down Effect of Caregiving on Women.” (accessed January 8, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2018/women-caregiving-trickle-down-effect.html