The “Sandwich Generation” describes the generation of adults, typically those in their 40s, who have taken on caregiving responsibilities for both a younger and older generation, typically children and aging parents. Covid reshaped the sandwich generation, and made the experience of dual caregiving more common. Rather than encompassing only those with young children and aging parents, many adult children became more dependent on parents throughout 2020 and in the following years. In July of 2022, half of adults age 18-29 were living with parents, a jump from 38% in 2000. To further expand this ‘sandwiched’ generation, life expectancies continue to increase, extending caregiving responsibilities needed for older adults. Grandparents also often find themselves sandwiched, caring for a grandchild and spouse simultaneously.
According to the Pew Research Center, 23% of American adults are now members of the Sandwich Generation, and they are facing an immense financial burden. This population spends $10,000 and 1,350 hours caregiving annually, on average. Soaring inflation in recent years has compounded this issue, as national credit card debt just reached a record high of $1 trillion. And, Generation X holds both the most members of the Sandwich Generation and the most credit card debt, averaging over $7,000. This financial burden is an immense challenge as caregivers are paying thousands of dollars annually, all while spending so much time on caregiving responsibilities that working a full-time job becomes nearly impossible.
This growing challenge needs to be addressed both on the individual and at the policy level. From an individual perspective, communication and planning is vital. Caregiver burnout is all too common; and, in order to protect yourself and those reliant on your support, setting boundaries with time and a willingness to ask for help can make a world of difference. Have a designated schedule for necessary caregiving responsibilities, and ask your spouse and siblings how they can contribute to the care needs of your children and parents, if you feel responsibility is disproportionately and unsustainably falling to you. If you aren’t yet sandwiched, but foresee parents needing care in the near future, insurance and planning services can go a long way. As a member of the Aging at Home Association you can use your non-insurance supports for your immediate family members with tools like Wellthy’s care coordination and Trust & Will advance care planning, which are designed with the whole family in mind.
From a policy perspective, recognition of the need for greater caregiver supports is growing and proposed federal policy reflects this. The American Rescue Plan Act, a pandemic relief bill, increased federal Medicaid funding for Home and Community Based Supports (HCBS) and increased the child tax credit. The Biden Administration also recently proposed the American Families Plan. This legislation would guarantee family and medical leave for 12 weeks, allowing more financial freedom to adults with new children, those caring for a sick loved one, or grieving the death of family. Further proposed legislation, the American Jobs Plan would further bolster funding for HCBS and could be used to grow a shrinking home health workforce and, in turn, take some responsibility off family members.
It’s clear the sandwich generation is struggling. Hopefully, the exacerbation of these issues throughout Covid and a growing understanding of the financial burden of caregiving will provide impetus for policies that support sandwiched Americans, and will reduce the stigma around discussing these unique challenges and asking for help as needed. Check in with the family caregivers in your life and take advantage of your policyholder benefits now to offer support!