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  • What it means to be a caregiver, and why it matters

    womenNovember is National Caregivers Month, an entire month devoted to honoring those dedicated individuals who care for and support elderly, sick or persons with disabilities. The year’s theme, decided by the National Family Caregiver Association, is Family Caregivers: Now More Than Ever.

    Caregivers are most often family members taking care of their parents or close relatives as they get older, develop health problems, and can no longer take care of themselves. 66 million people in the U.S. provide unpaid care to a relative or friend. The large majority of these caregivers are women (61%). Overall, women caregivers provide more hours of care and are more likely to make career changes in order to fulfill this role. Caregivers are essential partners of those who need assistance. They attend important doctor appointments, buy groceries, drive loved ones wherever they need, perform complex medical/nursing tasks, manage multiple medications, provide wound care, and operate specialized medical equipment.

    Throughout this month, WISER will feature blog posts about caregivers and the issues they face. We hope through these blogs, caregivers and futures caregivers can feel confident that they have the information they need to make good financial decisions while still providing care. If you are interested in more information from WISER on caregiving, read our booklet, Financial Steps for Caregivers.

    It is important to remember that becoming a caregiver can happen at any time. If you are not currently a caregiver, there is a good chance you will eventually provide some level of care for another person at some point in your life. The typical caregiver is a 49 year old woman, caring for her widowed 69 year old mother who doesn’t live with her, while still trying to juggle her career and family. Often you may find yourself a caregiver as you are nearing retirement, which potentially creates financial hardships.

    Caregiving can be challenging and time-consuming. Nearly 50% of all caregivers spend more than 8 hours each week providing care, and more than 12% spend more than 40 hours each week providing care. Unfortunately, allocating that much time to caregiving means that 70% of individuals must rearrange their schedules. This adjustment often results dropping hours and forfeiting chances at promotions.

    weight of the worldThe Social Security Administration reports that women average 13 years of zero earnings between age 22 and retirement. Part of that is because they take time off from work to care for family members. Changes in work schedules trigger long-term financial losses because reduced wages and benefits results in missed opportunities for compounded returns on 401(k) matching contributions and less money in savings and investments. A 2011 MetLife study shows that caregivers lose $303,880 in wages, Social Security benefits, and private pensions. Additionally, caregivers pay an estimate of $5,531 annually in out-of-pocket costs for caregiving. For women, who are the primary caregivers in our society, these financial losses can be terrible. Women caregivers are 2.5 times more likely than non-caregivers to live in poverty, according to a study by Rice University in Houston.

    For more about the effects of caregiving, see our special report, and stay tuned all month for more information about caregivers.

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    About Us

    WISER is a nonprofit organization that works to help women, educators and policymakers understand the important issues surrounding women's retirement income. WISER creates a variety of consumer publications including fact sheets, booklets and a quarterly newsletter that explain in easy-to-understand language the complex issues surrounding Social Security, divorce, pay equity, pensions, savings and investments, banking, home-ownership, long-term care and disability insurance.

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