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Caregiving and Women’s Uphill Battle for Economic Security

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the connection between women’s role as CAREGIVERS and their economic security. We’ve heard a lot about women leaving the workforce to help children with virtual learning or take care of pre-schoolers when day care centers closed. But there’s another reality that doesn’t get as much attention.

Mothers are also DAUGHTERS  . . . and spouses and friends. Every day, they help take care of aging parents and other adult loved ones. And, this second wave of caregiving can have a devastating impact on their financial futures.

On average, family caregivers spend more than 24 hours per week on care responsibilities, doing everything from driving to and from doctors appointments, running errands and cooking meals to managing medications, handling financial and legal issues and more. 

So, it’s no wonder that many women “lean out” –  cutting back their work hours, forgoing promotions, or leaving the workforce entirely. 
This has tremendous economic consequences.  One study estimates that a woman taking care of a parent could lose $120,000 in lifetime wages from reduced working hours and $142,000 if she stops working. These lower earnings lead to less in savings and eventually reduced Social Security benefits. 

And then, there are out-of-pocket care expenses, which AARP research finds total, on average, around 20% of women caregivers annual income . . .and much more for Hispanic/Latina and Black women. 

Of course, MEN are also caregivers and many have been affected by the economic disruption of the pandemic.  What’s different is that women are more likely to start out at a disadvantage.   

When a woman in her 20s gets a job, she often earns less than her male counterparts, a pay gap that persists and compounds over time. Then, if she starts a family, she may work less to take care of her children. If and when she ramps back up, she is years behind her male colleagues in terms of earnings and savings.

She’s still trying to catch up when second wave caregiving comes into play, starting the cycle all over again.

Now, if she tries to get back into the workforce full-time, she could be dealing with the triple whammy of AGE, GENDER, and – for women of color - RACIAL discrimination.

So, this isn’t simply a short-term issue.  It’s a long-standing problem made exponentially worse by the pandemic. 

Already, women account for 58 percent of Americans over 65 who are living in poverty.  And, on average, women have less in retirement savings – nearly half as much for single women compared to single men, and married women have almost a third less than married men. Their social security benefits are lower, and so is their average retirement income overall. 

New AARP research points to a rough road ahead for women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. In fact, we may be looking at the start of a pandemic poverty cohort.

  • 4 out of 10 working women age 40 to 65 experienced some kind of job or income disruption since the beginning of 2020.
  • Nearly a quarter of Black and Latina women in this age group lost a job. 
  • And, women who provided care to others – almost HALF of the 40+ women we surveyed – were more likely to have lost a job or have their work ours reduced. 

All of this leads to financial stress and instability. Many who lost jobs were out of work for six months or more. To make ends meet, they increased their credit card debt, borrowed from family or friends or took money out of retirement accounts. 

And, caregiving responsibilities continue to affect women’s ability to earn a living and save for the future.

Until a few years ago, the struggles of family caregivers were a strictly personal issue.

I’m proud that, in part because of the work we’ve done at AARP, lawmakers are starting to step up. Every state has enacted laws to address caregiver issues and challenges. And, the federal RAISE Family Caregivers Advisory Council just released a set of recommendations.

These are good first steps, but there is more work to do to support the 48 million Americans who are the backbone of our care system . . and put women and their families on firmer financial footing. 

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