Well-Being Longevity

Why candidates should be talking about the caregiving crisis

caregiving in the US, caregiver, healthcare for aging adults, caring for aging parent, presidential campaign issues for 2020

Story At A Glance

  • A poll by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and Caring Across Generations finds 85 percent of respondents think political candidates should be talking about caregiving.
  • A huge majority, 82 percent of those surveyed, support the creation of a new nationwide program for caregivers, which people would pay into to access a wide range of support.
  • The average caregiver puts in nearly 36 hours per week on top of other responsibilities, like a full-time job.

There are currently nearly 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, a number that could increase up to about 13.8 million by 2050. Women make up about two thirds of those cases. A poll of 1,510 adults by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and Caring Across Generations found that 85 percent of respondents think political candidates should prioritize quality care for older adults, and 82 percent of Americans would support a new federal program to provide support for caregiving families — including paying into a program that covers child care, paid family and medical leave, and long-term care for those who need it, including those living with disabilities and the elderly.

“Providing care and needing care is the defining experience of working Americans today,” says Ai-jen Poo, co-founder of Caring Across Generations.

The poll found that about two-thirds of respondents don’t have a plan for their own future care needs. Women are more likely to be caregivers than men, and about half of women spent more than 21 hours per week on caregiving. The average caregiver puts in almost 36 hours per week.

The poll found that these caregiving responsibilities understandably impact other areas of their lives, like keeping up with the news and feeling informed about political candidates. In fact, 20 percent said that they haven’t voted because their caregiving responsibilities were too difficult. This hits Latinx and millennial voters particularly hard, with about 28 percent of Latinx voters and 30 percent of millennial voters affected, according to the poll results.

In addition, women are disproportionately affected by caregiving duties. With Alzheimer’s disease in particular, women are devoting more hours than men as caregivers, 39 hours on average compared to 22. Women are also more likely to report feeling stressed and overwhelmed by caregiving duties. This is like having another part-time or nearly full-time job on top of other responsibilities. About 54 percent of women in the poll also said they have full-time jobs outside of their home.

The poll also asked whether respondents would support a new national program to support caregiving, one that people can buy into. Both Democrats and Republicans surveyed in the poll were largely in support of creating a such a program, about 90 percent and 71 percent, respectively. “Across party lines, age, and ethnic backgrounds, Americans are looking for political leaders who understand the breadth of our families’ caregiving responsibilities, and who are willing to address our failing care infrastructure in ways that are more than piecemeal,” says Poo in a press release. “Women, families of color, and the youngest and oldest among us have been disproportionately paying the price — and broad swaths of the country’s middle class are increasingly struggling.”

In particular, families are being “squeezed,” says Maria Shriver, founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and the former first lady of California. People are not able to save money for their own care when they are older because they are spending all their money when they are younger to care for their children’s care and for their parents, for example.

So far, we haven’t heard much talk about these issues in the debates, says Shriver. “People are desperate for a solution and are not hearing leaders talk about one.” They are struggling to get by, and the squeeze of having to spend time and money on caregiving at several stages of life is keeping people from being financially stable, and also preventing them from participating in democracy.

Respondents in the poll said they’d be willing to buy into a new federal program for caregivers. “People recognize that we need a collective solution to support child care, paid medical leave,” says Poo. “There’s a huge appetite for a solution, a comprehensive solution.”