Think before you quit your job to care for Mom
By Cynthia Ramnarace
"...a generation of 50-plus caregivers lose an average of $303,880 when they leave the workforce early to care for an aging parent, according to research from MetLife.
"Women are more likely to leave the workforce early than men are, and so the differential impact on them is quite dramatic," says John Migliaccio, director of research and gerontology for the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
Women lose an estimated $324,044 each in earnings, pension and Social Security benefits, compared with $283,716 for men, a 14 percent difference. The total loss for this group adds up to nearly $3 trillion, MetLife said.
Every hour per week devoted to helping Mom dress, get to doctor's appointments, or take her medication increases the chances by 3 percent that a caregiver will lose income, according to a recent study in the journal Community, Work and Family.
Despite those daunting numbers, caregivers are walking away from work for a variety of reasons.
Often, there is not enough paid leave or flextime at work to accommodate their caregiving schedules.
Sometimes they cut back on their hours because the pressures of caregiving have sickened them, too: The longer someone spends as a primary caregiver, the more likely it is that her health will diminish and that she will leave work, said both the National Alliance for Caregiving, a coalition of caregiving organizations, and AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans.
CAN YOU AFFORD TO QUIT?
A decision that carries so much financial risk deserves an equivalent amount of deliberation, says Susan Fleischer, executive director of geriatric care management company Senior Bridge.
"Many times this becomes a very reactive decision, and it needs to be more planned, more introspective," says Fleischer, who advises caregivers on this topic.
She urges them to consider the financial implications of quitting: Can your family get by without your income? How will dropping out of the workforce affect your retirement savings? Are there other options? Would it be cheaper to pay for adult day care or assisted living than quitting?
And then consider: Can you handle the day-to-day obligations of caregiving? If your parent needs around-the-clock care, are you prepared to forgo vacations and dinners out with friends?
Also consider the impact on your career. You might think you are just taking a few months off until things settle down. But the average caregiver spends 4.6 years in that role, according to a 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving study. Would you be able to maintain your job skills and contacts over that time?
"Four years can be a professional lifetime in terms of the technology changes and new events in a profession," says Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc.
Consider, too, the added economic burden on you. If you need to move, can you rent out your current home? Can you live with your parent? If not, how much would rent and utilities cost? How about transportation expenses -- would you have to buy a car, or get a new one that is easier for Mom to get in and out of?
Before you decide to quit, run the numbers to see how much, exactly, it will cost you. Calculators on the U.S. Social Security Administration website allow you to input different scenarios and see how much of a loss you will take retiring at 55 instead of 62, for instance. Your own 401(k) website should have similar calculators.
And do not make this decision alone. Turn to your spouse and your siblings and ask if, together, you can all pitch in and make the task doable.
"You don't want to have family members be angry and cause conflict," says Fleischer. "Talking together is the best kind of situation."