The future of caregiving: High demand, scarce workers

If you are hovering around retirement age today, you will be closing in on your eighties in the year 2030. With any luck, you will be healthy and mobile – but imagine for a moment that you are not. Let’s say a debilitating illness requires that you receive care in a nursing home.

It is an unsettling future to imagine. But now ask yourself this – who will take care of you? The United States is headed toward a severe shortage of caregivers – paid and unpaid – in the decades ahead, according to human resources expert Paul Osterman. A professor of human resources and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, Osterman is the author of a new book, Who Will Care for Us: Long-term Care and the Long-Term Workforce (Russell Sage Foundation, 2017), which examines trends in the labor force market for caregivers.

His conclusion? “It’s an absolute train wreck waiting to happen.”

Our aging population will push up demand, although Osterman notes that roughly half of demand for care will come from younger, disabled people.

He examines the projected rising demand for care in the coming decades, and then matches up the demand side with trends in the labor force for paid certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and home care workers, including the availability of unpaid family and friends – the most common source of care for many people.

He finds that in 2030 there will be a national shortage of 151,000 paid direct care workers and 3.8 million unpaid family caregivers. By 2040, the shortfall will be much larger: 355,000 paid workers, and the family and friends shortfall will be a shocking 11 million.

“These are conservative estimates,” Osterman told me in a recent interview for Reuters Money.

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