The challenges millennials face as caregivers, and what they can do about them

An opinion piece by Gareth Mahon, co-founder and CEO of The CareSide

In spite of what many people believe, Millennials have not had an easy road. This tech-savvy generation, born between 1981 and 1996, was witness to the global spread of the internet, the invention of social media, and the adoption of smartphones. Millennials have had to learn to adapt to a rapidly changing world more than any generation before them. They have seen and done a lot in their time. They have also had to live through economic recessions, the global rise of far-right populism, and a global pandemic to top it all off. 

As if that weren’t bad enough, they live with the ever-present threat of world-ending climate change hanging over their heads. It wasn’t that long ago that Millennials were the young people of today. Those days are coming to an end as they are now the face of today’s workforce, having settled into adulthood, started  to raise families and cemented careers.

However, they are starting to face an altogether new challenge on the horizon just as they are starting to find their place in the world: that of becoming caregivers for their baby boomer parents. To make sure the new generation of caregivers is well-equipped to take on their new role, it’s important we understand where they’re coming from, what they’ve had to deal with, how that impacts their ability to provide care, and what they can do about it.

Financial challenges of millennials

Millennials are used to financial hardship. As a generation, they have faced the brunt of wage stagnation that has been ongoing since the 2008 global financial crisis. Australia in particular has some of the worst wage growth in the developed world.

Older generations, meanwhile, have more of a financial safety net because they have already established careers and are more likely to have multiple sources of income. For these reasons, Millennials may be the first generation in living memory to have lower living standards than the ones before them.

Millennials have had to struggle to succeed in an economy that fought against them. In the United States, 35.3% of Millennials live with their parents for financial reasons.

There are popular stereotypes and mean-spirited internet jokes rooted in the assumption that Millennials spend all their spare money on raves and avocado toast and spend little time thinking about the future, but this fails to hold up under scrutiny. The truth, if anything, is that Millennials are more financially savvy than their baby boomer parents.

A 2018 survey done by Australian economic advisory firm AlphaBeta showed that 36% of millennials save their money compared to 28% of older Australians. They also turn to “buy now pay later” services like Afterpay to help them budget, are delaying house purchases and spend less on nonessentials like tobacco and alcohol. Millennials have had to be resourceful and tech savvy to survive in an increasingly uncertain world with the odds stacked against their success. And it’s starting to catch up to them.

Millennials are more cynical, more burnt out

Years of fighting an uphill battle to get ahead have made Millennials cynical and world-weary. A popular article in Buzzfeed labeled them as the “Burnout Generation,” jaded by disappointment and frustration from struggling to achieve the same quality of life as their parents. This has led to a distrust of the institutions meant to protect and advocate for them such as banks and the inner workings of government. 

Their faith in the institutions and leadership that kept older generations afloat has been shaken. Only 19% of Australian Millennials think the economy will improve, and two-thirds think that government leaders have no ambition beyond consolidating their own power.

In spite of that, there is little denying their significance. Millennials now represent 40% of Australia’s working population, and spend one out of every three dollars in the economy. Millennials should be prepared to face a new challenge just on the horizon, even in spite of all the turbulence in the world today.

Australia is in the middle of a demographic shift where the proportion of older people is growing. As more and more baby boomers reach retirement age and shift out of the workforce, the impact on the Australian national budget is projected to cost $36 billion.

That means one thing: more and more millennials are going to have to assume caregiving responsibilities for their parents with fewer resources to work with. Caregiving in and of itself is emotionally demanding, not to mention expensive. Millennials have spent 27% more on caregiving than other generations have.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. For Millennials in Australia at least, there is a safety net they can fall back on.

Australian millennial caregivers have an ace up their sleeve

Most of the data and information available paints a bleak picture of the future: the current generation of young people will be thrust into a position of great responsibility they may not have the resources to deal with. However, there is a silver lining. Millennials in Australia have something that their counterparts in America do not: a better social safety-net.

The United States is one of the only industrialized nations without universal healthcare, forcing them to spend twice as much on health care as the rest of the world. Home care options for older people in America are limited. The Medicare program is available for older people, but only for US citizens and those who worked full time for at least 10 years. For lower-income older Americans there is Medicaid, but it is available to very few. Unless you have decades of savings, your options as an American are narrow. 

In Australia, we’re fortunate to have more and better alternatives. Australians have the option of using government-subsidized healthcare specific to their needs. The Australian government funds support for older people with the Commonwealth Support Programme (CSHP),  which provides in-home assisted living. CSHP services include help around the house, transport, meals, personal care, and even respite care. If you’re a caregiver for your older parent and need a break for a couple days or even a few hours, CSHP can help you.

For older adults with more complex needs, the Australian government offers Home Care Packages and even Residential Aged Care for older people who can no longer live independently. Home care packages can be used to purchase services such as private nursing, overnight, and respite care. This support can reduce the burden that often falls on caregivers. It  can provide them with the time and resources to be able to balance caring for a relative while also having time to pursue their educational and career aspirations. 

After all, in order for caregivers to successfully care for others, they first need to be able to take care of their own needs.

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