The Fallacy of Unpaid Long Term Care and the Workforce

 Numerous reports have described the vast majority of America’s long-term caregivers as “unpaid” or ‘informal.”  This workforce is made up of spouses, children, other family and friends of the person in need of care.  From the point of view that these individuals do not receive a paycheck for their caregiving duties, the title of unpaid is accurate; however, it falls far short of portraying the complete picture.

Not only is the caregiver unpaid; in fact, she is often paying dearly herself.  In many cases, so are her family, her employer, and her colleagues.  AARP’s Public Policy’s report Understanding the Impact of Family Caregiving on Work describes the average U.S. caregiver as “a 49- year-old woman who works outside the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week—the equivalent of another part-time job—providing unpaid care to her mother for nearly five years.



Unpaid caregivers who continue to work for employers bring unique challenges to the workplace.  They are often seasoned, highly-valuable employees – the ‘glue’ of a workforce.  When they ask for typical caregiver accommodations – arriving late/leaving early, time off/cutting back on hours, etc. – these are a cost to the employer as well as other employees. 

AARP reports that an estimated 61 percent of family caregivers of adults age 50 and older are currently employed.  Some employed caregivers choose to change jobs or even quit their jobs.  A recent national survey reported that 19 percent of retirees said that caregiving responsibilities were responsible for them leaving the workforce earlier than they had planned!  Recruiting and training replacement workers can be a tremendous cost to an employer. 


Time spent providing unpaid caregiving is time not spent elsewhere: from raising children, being with a spouse, to performing the duties we attribute to the typical middle-aged active person.  The sacrifice of caregivers in terms of their quality of life – especially when the need for care lasts many years – can be extreme.

In addition, the monetary sacrifice extends well beyond a reduction in pay when hours are cut or an early retirement is taken.  Truncated employment benefits and lower social security earnings can have a lifelong impact. 

A MetLife Study Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring For Their Parents in 2011 states that “Family caregivers (age 50 and older) who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose, on average, nearly $304,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime.


As baby boomers age, they are transitioning from being the family caregivers to those who will need care.  The problems are many.  They include a shrinking pool of potential family caregivers as the boomers age out of that role.  Increased longevity is projected to make the duration of care needs even longer than in the past.

Employers, employees, family members, friends and neighbors can expect to see the problem of long term care skyrocket in the next few decades.  A workplace long term care insurance offering can be an important part of both raising awareness and solving this problem for all.