There is a significant cost associated with aging well and securely in America. Long-term care facilities and retirement communities cost staggering amounts of money, as do the high costs of premiums to maintain a long-term care insurance policy. The long-term care system is both underfunded and not well matched to the expectations of the older adults trying to thrive within it. There exists a crisis in care within this country’s social safety net. The problem spells financial disaster for many Americans.
What Causes the High Cost of Elder Care?
Below are a few reasons that the cost of elder care is surging.
- There are workforce shortages or limitations in healthcare or Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) systems.
- Baby boomers are aging, so the age distribution of people over 65 in the US has been steadily increasing. The US Census projects that percentage of Americans over 65 will continue rising.
- Diabetes, dementia, and other chronic diseases requiring extensive medical interventions and constant care are becoming more prevalent.
- Federal and state programs transfer responsibilities to home and community-based services and families.
- Caregivers often have to stop or reduce their income-producing activities.
- The insurance projections from decades ago underfunded the costs of long-term care.
- As the US population ages, fewer workers pay into the social safety system.
The Cost of Aging at Home
The majority of aging Americans want to do so in their own homes. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), seventy-five percent of people agree with the statement, “I’d really like to remain in my community for as long as possible.”
Studies show much of the caregiving provided is family-driven. Like paid caregivers, their work is often unnoticed, under-discussed, and unappreciated. Caregiving frequently has devastating consequences on retirement planning, affecting the next generations of their family and perpetuating this problem cycle. Vox reports the most recent data from AARP, which constitutes 41.8 million people or 16.8 percent of the US population, are caring for an adult 50 years or older. A full 28 percent of these care providers have stopped saving money, 23 percent are accumulating more debt, 22 percent have depleted their short-term savings, and 11 percent report being unable to fund basic needs, including food.
The Dilemmas of the Caregiver System in America
The significant belief that caregiving is a “family responsibility” permeates the US consciousness. Politicians and policymakers who promote this mindset remain unable to redress the shocking costs of eldercare, thus imposing the caregiver reality upon family systems. By extension, many family caregivers’ labor is characterized as something done out of instinct or love, devaluing the complex, primarily unpaid work.
This devaluation of caregiver labor exists for paid caregivers in institutional settings, leading to paychecks that do not constitute a living wage and shortages of caregivers, often women, particularly women of color. Low and stagnant wages continue even as demand skyrockets. Many quality workers seek positions with better pay and more appreciation.
People who qualify for Medicaid, about 80 million Americans, discover that waiting lists for home care assistance have an average wait time of more than three years. Their needs are often neglected, especially if they have no family to rely on during this waiting period.
As demand for care continues to rise for the increasingly older and infirmed population, the supply of private institutional care is prohibitively expensive. Existing social policies are not meeting the needs. Aging in the American landscape needs political reimagining to protect families and stop subverting grievances and social responsibilities to those caregiving workers (paid and unpaid) least likely to thrive providing this care. It is essential to preserve the dignity of our older generations and those providing this care. Hopefully, the US government quickly identifies ways to do so affordably. We hope you found this article helpful. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.