are living longer, and that's good news. But it also means that
the population of elderly people in the United States is growing-and
that poses some challenges.
Already, it's estimated that 22.4 million American households-nearly
one in every four-provides unpaid care to a relative or friend
age 50 or older. Demographic trends make it clear this number
will continue to increase well into the next century.
This aging population needs assistance with the activities of
daily living that many of us take for granted-tasks such as
housework, managing money and shopping for personal items. Depending
on their health, these older Americans may also need help with
daily activities such as eating, dressing, bathing and similar
Women Often Affected
Women are the traditional caregivers to the elderly, yet many
women are also part of the labor force. In 1997 for instance,
it was estimated that 61 percent of married couples both worked
outside the home. That places many women in the difficult position
of balancing work and family obligations.
'The typical caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who is employed
(full- or parttime) and also spends about 18 hours per week
caring for her mother, who lives nearby. The typical recipient
of that care is a 77-year-old woman who lives alone and has
a chronic illness, The average duration of the caregiving is
A 1996 study, conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving
and the American Association of Retired Persons, indicated that
caregiving responsibilities can have a significant effect on
of the employed caregivers who were surveyed said they had
taken time off, had come into work later or were working later
hours. Of the people surveyed, 6 percent had given up work
entirely to focus on caregiving, while 3.6 percent took early
asked what kind of help or information caregivers could use
the most, survey respondents requested "free time, time for
myself' most frequently.
Issue For Employers
Clearly, elder care is an issue for employers as well as families.
"Employers are beginning to realize that assisting working women
and men with their eldercare needs fosters a more creative and
productive work environment," says Ida Castro, acting director
of the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, "and we want
to help them help their workers." To assist those faced by the
elder care challenge, the Women's Bureau is offering Work And
Elder Care: Facts For Caregivers And Their Employers, a guide
that offers practical information on the types of elder care
"By sharing best work practices in this area, we hope to assist
working families to balance the demands of work. children and,
in many cases, their elderly parents or loved ones;" says Castro.
The guide, which is free, is available on the Women's Bureau
Web site at www.dol.gov/dol/wb, or by calling 1-800-827-5335.