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America Needs Paid Leave Before the Boomer Bomb Goes Off

As the American population ages, paid leave will be crucial for families with Boomer parents who will need care, according to a new report from The National Partnership for Women and Families. Titled Our Aging, Caring Nation, the brief shows that, in addition to helping new parents, strong paid leave policies relieve significant financial and time burdens experienced by younger generations caring for family members age 65 or older —a population expected to double by more than 30 million in the next 15 years.

The report reveals that the wave of aging baby boomers is likely to cause a huge burden for working people. Currently, 43 million American are providing care for family members. Many of those care for both older parents and children while also juggling work. More than half of those caring for an older parent say it negatively impacts their job. While this may not seem particularly novel, the type and amount of care these adults are providing is changing significantly, particularly when it comes to older adults.

Recently, care for older adults in the home has grown increasingly technical and includes managing complicated medication schedules, wound care, and injections. These tasks require a certain amount of training to understand, but those being squeezed between care and work often have no time to learn how to complete the tasks, leaving those they’re looking after at risk. This is particularly true for low-income workers who do not have the resources to hire in-home care or pay for nursing facilities.

Moreover, caring for older adults is putting bank accounts at risk as well, costing up to $7,000 a year in out of pocket expenses for caregivers, roughly 20 percent of their annual income. That burden is only likely to increase as the aging population experiences more significant health problems. Consider the fact that the number of older adults with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow by 35 percent by 2025.

Even more significantly, the number of family members who are available to care for older adults is contracting. That’s both due to lower birth rates and family complications such as divorce. In 2010, an older adult had about seven family members who could potentially provide care. By 2050, that number will be less than three.

The National Partnership for Women and Families report argues that a robust paid family leave policy could help solve many of these issues, beginning with the ability for caregivers to take the time to learn the crucial skills necessary to provide care to their older loved ones. Additionally, women who often take on more of the burden of care will be more likely to keep their jobs rather than leaving (or being forced out) of the workforce to provide that care. Finally, paid leave would also help reduce the shortage of available caregivers by allowing workers to take the time to help ailing relatives heal.

The report also notes that research shows that when families provide care for one another, the health outcomes are significantly better. Paid leave, it’s argued, will ensure that the rising tide of older Boomers will be happier and healthier, and so will their families.