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Elder Care Puts Financial Pressure on Middle Aged Workers


In many developed countries around the world the fastest growing age group is 80 and over. Older people in developing countries are also living longer. Given a choice, many elderly people prefer to live independently in their own homes. But often adult children must step in to care for aging parents. VOA's Melinda Smith looks at the issue of elder care in the United States.

There is a good reason why middle aged Americans -- born between 1946 and 1965 -- are called "the sandwich generation." They are wedged in between two other population groups: the children they are raising and the parents who once raised them.

Both older and younger generations are placing financial and emotional demands on the middle aged, many of whom are now turning 60 themselves.

Linda Defrino almost quit work when her 84-year-old mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. She says she was caught between two full time jobs. One was in the office and another at home, caring for her mother: "The job itself is high stress, so that stress, plus the personal stress which I had never had was growing."

Linda Defrino's employer now allows her to work part time at home. "I feel that I can repay her for all the things she's done for me."

Rhonda Rosenberg says she was unprepared for having to care for her 85-year-old mother. "I couldn't turn my back on her. She didn't turn her back on me."

The AARP [formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons] says a majority of the 38 million Americans who act as unpaid caregivers often do so at a financial cost.

John Rother of the AARP says most of these caregivers are women. "Responsibilities of caregiving often fall almost entirely on one person, and that person has to choose often between their own future and being caregiver to someone that they love."

A survey by the Kaiser Foundation shows that one in four American workers say they are responsible for the care of an elderly parent. Thirty-four percent of women and 24 percent of men report having missed work because they had to care for an aging parent.

Many companies are finding elder care to be one of the biggest workplace issues in the United States. Taking time off to care for a parent costs American businesses $30 billion a year in lost worker productivity. Companies have begun offering a variety of programs to help employees care for older parents, ranging from flexible hours to adding a parent to workers' health plans.

The international food-processing manufacturer General Mills offers discounts on long-term health insurance for parents of employees. Scott Weisberg is a vice president. "When you hire people for the long haul, you know that there's going to be times when their work and life priorities get out of balance. You've got to provide this kind of support."

The United States is not the only country searching for innovative ways of caring for its elderly. China's oldest generation is the largest in the world, and is growing by at least three million every year. By the year 2051, one report says, three out of every ten Chinese people will be over 60.

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