Family First: Is Quitting Your Job to Be a Full-Time Caregiver the Right Choice?
Emily felt like she was one of the working moms who “had it all,” skillfully juggling her demanding job in the legal department of a large corporation while raising two busy children. And then, her mother suffered a debilitating fall. Emily found herself suddenly weighing her career goals against the needs of an ailing family member. As an only child, could she keep up with her job and take care of her mother?
Unfortunately, Emily’s story is not unique. An estimated 22 to 26 million Americans provide some form of care for a loved one. And 60% of those family caregivers continue to work part-time or full-time jobs. According to the AARP, family caregivers provided 36 billion hours of (largely unpaid) care in 2021, at an estimated value of $600 billion.
“Family caregiving can be a very demanding job, and it can really take a toll on your mental and physical health,” says Right at Home franchise owner Paul Blom. There’s also no guarantee that you’ll be able to continuously provide the level of care that your loved one needs. It’s something Paul has seen many times in his 20 years in business. Clients come to him having made significant sacrifices to be a family caregiver, but still find they need more help.
“The biggest culprit for people feeling like they need to quit their job is a diagnosis of dementia,” Paul says. “It is so prevalent, and the care burden is significant.”
In Minnesota, financial help is available for family caregivers through tax credits, Medicaid waivers, and veteran’s programs for those who qualify. A local Area Agency on Aging can help people navigate their options.
Quitting a job to become a family caregiver can have significant long-term financial consequences. It’s essential to carefully consider these potential impacts before making the decision. Some of the key long-term financial consequences include:
Loss of income: The most immediate impact is the loss of regular income from the job. This loss can significantly affect your ability to cover daily living expenses, pay bills, and maintain your lifestyle.
Impact on retirement savings: Quitting a job means no further contributions to retirement savings accounts such as 401(k)s. Over time, this can result in a substantial reduction in retirement funds and potential long-term financial security during retirement.
Career progression: Leaving the workforce interrupts your career progression. Depending on the length of time you’re out of the job market, it may be challenging to re-enter at the same level or salary you had previously. This can limit your earning potential in the future. Even if you stay in the job, will caregiving require that you pass up opportunities for promotions?
Healthcare costs: If your job provided health insurance, quitting may mean losing that coverage. You may need to find alternative healthcare options, which can be expensive, especially if it is your spouse or a dependent that you are caring for and they have significant medical needs.
Dependence on family resources: In some cases, family caregivers may need financial support from other family members to cover their expenses. This reliance on others may cause strain in family dynamics and lead to financial instability. Paul says this is one of the most-overlooked aspects of family caregiving. When you become a family caregiver, you’re all of the sudden running a care organization,” Paul explains. “You’re trying to get your cousins or siblings to help out, or you may feel that they should pitch in financially, and they may wonder if caregiving money is coming out of someone’s future inheritance.” Things start to get complicated quickly, but help is available. Consider hiring a geriatric care manager such as Pathfinder Care Management or Volunteers of America to act as a neutral third party and help your family navigate all your options.
Future employment opportunities: Returning to the workforce after an extended absence can be challenging. Gaps in employment history may raise concerns for potential employers, affecting job prospects and future income potential.Paul urges his clients to consider alternative caregiving arrangements, such as part-time work or flexible arrangements. And if you do choose to become a full-time caregiver, it’s important to take breaks and vacations for your own mental and physical health. Caregiving can be rewarding and meaningful, but only if caregivers take care of themselves.