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Black caregivers carry the weight during the pandemic

February 19, 2021

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on the Black community, more so than in other communities. This is especially true among older people, who have not only been more vulnerable to the virus than younger people but also may feel more isolated under pandemic related restrictions.

Black caregivers have been vital for their families for generations, but during the pandemic the value of their roles has increased, keeping older loved ones protected and connected. The pandemic has also been a new source of stress—physical, emotional and financial. Many Black caregivers worry they can’t protect their loved ones from getting sick (67%) and feel they can’t take a day off to provide care to a family member who needs it (54%).

These are some of the findings from a Nationwide Retirement Institute® survey* of Black caregivers, conducted in September 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Black caregivers spend an average of 32 hours a week providing care to loved ones and family members.

The pandemic has also raised their financial concerns; because the cost of caregiving often draws from personal savings, many Black caregivers worry they will be unable to provide money they had planned to their children (33%) or retire one day (30%).

The personal costs of caregiving

For many Black caregivers, the rewards outweigh the long hours, emotional toll and physical exhaustion that come with providing care. Even as the pandemic has exacerbated the stresses of caregiving, it remains a personally gratifying experience for many Black caregivers. Around half say they have become closer to the person they care for and 29% say caregiving has brought their families closer. A majority of Black caregivers (73%) say they would become a caregiver again if they had to.

Every family has their own experience that underscores the value and cost of caregiving. Within the Black community, family members are often not only willing but expected to pitch in. For my family, it was my grandmother, who passed away in 2019, just two months before her 99th birthday. Her daughter (my aunt) was her primary caregiver for 24 years, moving from Chicago at age 46 to my grandmother’s home in Michigan. Not only did she uproot her life, my aunt spent her prime earning years balancing a full-time job and providing care to my grandmother. She also raised two boys of her own for many of those years.

The sacrifice she made is one many women make, either juggling or downshifting from a full-time career to a part-time job or moving out of the working world altogether to provide care to a family member in need. Especially for women in the later part of their careers, this lost time is also a lost opportunity during their high-earning years to boost their retirement savings.

Still, it’s important to acknowledge the personal challenges many Black caregivers face, especially under the restrictions of the pandemic. Nearly half (49%) feel the pandemic has prevented them from providing the level care they did before COVID-19. Moreover, many Black caregivers (44%) say the pandemic has made it nearly impossible to complete their caregiving duties.

Among the biggest fears Black caregivers face is not being there for their loved ones when they need care. Over half of those surveyed (57%) said they can’t afford to get sick because no one else can provide care for family members in need. Many wish they had more help with caregiving duties due to the increased stress of the pandemic.

My family’s caregiving experience started an important conversation about long-term care, one that we had during Christmas dinner in 2019, after my grandmother’s passing. It was a frank discussion where each of us needed to look realistically at our future: where do you want to live when you are older; do you want to stay at home; who will be able to provide care should one of us need it? Having a plan for caregiving is important in all families, but the first step in planning is having an open, honest conversation.

Younger caregivers step up

We’re also witnessing a generational shift among Black caregivers. In the past, Baby Boomers and older generations carried much of the load in caring for aging parents and family members. In our 2020 survey, we found Generation X and Millennials have assumed more of the caregiving duties in their families.

For younger people, caregiving comes with an additional challenge of balancing the demands of their working lives with their desire to provide care. Black caregivers in younger generations generally face higher costs than the average caregiver. Black Gen Xers spend out-of-pocket an average of nearly $5,700 per year on caregiving; among Black Millennials, the average out-of-pocket costs of caregiving exceed $6,800 per year.

As financial professionals, we shouldn’t overlook the financial impacts of caregiving on younger generations. Many Black caregivers end up dipping into savings to cover basic living expenses, although most believe they should be able to provide care without drawing on emergency funds or their retirement plans. The costs of caregiving can place greater risks on their finances, restricting their ability to save now or to achieve financial security down the road.

Help for Black caregivers

If there’s one silver lining in the pandemic, it’s been the higher sense of urgency among younger Black caregivers to discuss financial planning with family members. And what’s even more encouraging, Black caregivers are including long-term care in those family conversations.

What other steps can Black caregivers and their families take to prepare for the future challenges of caregiving?

  • Discuss the logistical details of caregiving: Make this the main topic of a family Zoom call or the next holiday gathering your family can do in person. Ask important questions about where will care take place, who will be a primary caregiver, will the caregiver have to move or take time off of work and what the financial impact will be.
  • Have a back-up plan: Caregiving is commonly provided by younger family members, but it’s good to have other options in place. Nearly all Black caregivers think the pandemic has made it more important than ever to have long-term care insurance. But only 4% of Black Americans say they’ve talked to a financial professional about long-term care costs.
  • Work with a financial professional: Here’s another silver lining from the pandemic—nearly half of Black caregivers say they’re working with a financial professional for the first time, citing COVID-19 as the reason why. Financial professionals are a helpful resource for Black Americans who want to develop a holistic financial plan for caregiving.

Help for financial professionals

The uncertainty around the pandemic has created an opportunity for financial professionals to introduce long-term costs in their planning discussions with clients. Nationwide has resources to help you, from initiating the first conversation to finding appropriate solutions.

  • Start the conversation around health care in retirement: This white paper includes relevant insights to help you plan a discussion with clients.
  • Understand the challenges Black caregivers experience during the pandemic: These statistics from our recent survey can help put clients concerns in proper perspective.
  • Simplify the complexities of long-term care planning: Our Health Care/LTC Cost Assessment tool can calculate personalized estimates of potential retirement health care and long-term care costs.

Sources and Disclaimers

  • 1

    The 2020 Nationwide Retirement Institute Black Caregivers survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of The Nationwide Retirement Institute within the United States between Aug. 25 and Sept. 16, 2020 among 313 Black adults aged 24 and over who are or have been caregivers.

  • This information is general in nature and is not intended to be tax, legal, accounting or other professional advice.

    The information provided is based on current laws, which are subject to change at any time, and has not been endorsed by any government agency.

    Neither Nationwide nor its representatives give legal or tax advice. Please have your clients consult with their attorney or tax advisor for answers to their specific tax questions.