There is a new generation of workers who are juggling conflicting demands that previous generations rarely faced. Known as the sandwich generation, these individuals – about 45 to 60 years old – are caught (i.e. sandwiched) between caring for their elderly parents and their own children. This new phenomenon is largely due to people living longer than ever before and requiring more care.
At the beginning of the 20th century, only 4% to 7% of people in their sixties had at least one living parent. Today, that figure is nearly 50%. Additionally, many people who are caring for aging parents also are paying college tuition for their children. Sometimes when their children graduate from college, they are returning home to live because of their inability to find employment due to the poor economy. In 1990 for example, only 25% of 18 to 25 year olds were living at home. By 2000, that figure had more than doubled to 52% and is steadily rising. If you are part of the sandwich generation (or soon to be), some practical steps can help you avoid getting squeezed by sandwich generation problems:
- Plan Ahead. If you know you are likely to face this issue, don’t bury your head in the sand and hope you will be able to somehow manage. For example, when planning for retirement, you must consider the likelihood that your monthly expenses will be higher if you are caring for a parent or one or more of your children need to move back in.
- Buy Protection. If your parents are fairly healthy and have sufficient assets and income, paying for long term care insurance should be strongly considered. As explained in previous Elder Law Today issues, life insurance or annuity policies that also have long term care benefits are an excellent way to protect against the high cost of long term care.
- Ask For Help. Too often when people are overwhelmed with caring for their parents, they are reluctant to ask even their own family for help. For example, it is quite common for one child to be the primary caregiver for a parent even though other children are willing and able to help. Don’t be a superhero and try to do everything yourself.
- Call In The Pros. If you think you have all the answers, you’re likely to make some serious and very costly mistakes. With all the legal, medical and financial issues facing the sandwich generation, you are likely to require at a minimum, the expertise from a gerontologist, financial planner and elder law attorney. Don’t assume you can figure it all out on your own.