Millennials are facing an elder care crisis nobody prepared them for.
As the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, enters the period of life when, statistically, most people need some form of care, experts say that more millennials – as well as Gen X and Gen Z Americans – will find themselves in a position, supporting an older relative with everything from specialized medical care to handling paperwork to daily tasks such as bathing and eating.
For many, taking on the affairs of a parent or senior relative will add pressure on top of pressure. Americans are having kids later in life, meaning they’re more likely to find themselves in a “sandwich generation,” caring for elderly parents and young kids at the same time. Nearly 25 percent of American adults and more than half of people in their 40s are “sandwiched,” with at least one child to support and at least one parent over 65.
Tomorrow’s caregivers will also face unprecedented career and financial challenges. Women, who have historically done the bulk of both elder and child care, are more likely than ever to have careers and be breadwinners. Many won’t be able to get time off work to provide the complex, ongoing assistance that many boomers will require. And they can’t afford to quit – faced with the Great Recession followed by the pandemic, younger workers, especially Black and non-college-educated millennials, don’t have the accumulated wealth necessary to cushion any prolonged period of unemployment or to shoulder a relative’s expenses.
There’s no magic bullet to fix the multifaceted problem of a society that doesn’t care for its elders or those who care for them, experts say. A solution, however, starts with recognizing that increasing numbers of young and middle-aged people will be caring for their elders in the years to come, a reality that still receives little acknowledgment or discussion.
“We didn’t know we’re gonna be caring for everybody in our 30s and 40s,” Andrea Catlett, 45, who cares for and lives with her mother, said. “You think that this is going to be the time where I can start doing stuff, but you are not going to be doing stuff. You’re going to be caregiving, and it can be isolating and lonely and a lot of work.”
Current caregivers say they believe the first step is combating the silence around the topic and having conversations with your elders about aging and care before a crisis hits. “They are not fun conversations,” Amanda Singleton, a caregiver from St. Petersburg, Florida, said. “But if you have someone in your life you love, this is going to be part of the deal.”
Caregivers and experts also call for policy reforms, from paid leave to changes in Medicaid eligibility and reimbursements, that would help elders and their families.