BY BETH FINKEL
Late last month, Mayor de Blasio signed into law two bills that take important strides toward supporting both paid caregivers and unpaid family caregivers in an aging New York City. That’s great news, and it can’t come soon enough.
Across the state, nearly 2.6 million unpaid family caregivers help make it possible for older adults and loved ones to live independently at home — and at a much lower cost to taxpayers than if they had to move to institutional care settings. It is estimated that the care provided by these unpaid family caregivers is valued at over $31.3 billion annually.
Unfortunately, as our population continues to rapidly age, we face a looming caregiver shortage in New York City. By 2030, New York City’s current pool of 1.1 million seniors is expected to balloon to 1.35 million, representing 16 percent of the city’s total population. Between now and 2040, the city’s 65+ population is expected to grow by an astonishing 40 percent. An AARP-NY survey conducted in 2014 found that 52 percent of those age 50 and over expect to provide care to a loved one within five years.
As the senior population expands — and particularly as we prepare to manage the needs of this growing and aging group — we will need to make sure to offer caregivers the types of supports that will enable them to continue to care for their loved ones.
Family caregivers deserve this support. Every day, this silent army of Americans performs a great labor of love by helping their parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings and children remain at home. They help their loved ones with medications and medical care, meals, bathing and dressing, chores and much more. And they do all this while often putting their own needs last, ignoring their physical, emotional and mental health care needs and while juggling other responsibilities and full- or part-time jobs.
New Yorkers want increased attention paid to this often unnoticed group; an AARP-commissioned survey found eight of every 10 city voters 50 and older felt strongly that elected officials should make support for family caregivers a priority.
The two new laws help do that: they require the Department for the Aging (DFTA) to identify the needs of unpaid caregivers and develop a comprehensive plan to address those needs, and to establish a new Division of Paid Care within the Office of Labor Standards. With these laws, the city is building on its track record of supporting caregivers. Last year, at the urging of AARP-NY, the City Council took the important step of making caregivers a protected class to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
But we still have a lot of work to do in New York City. The next step is to adequately fund services that enable New Yorkers to age independently at home — where they want to be — helping support both our seniors and their caregivers. These services continue to be underfunded, despite the fact that it makes fiscal sense to keep aging New Yorkers out of institutional settings. On multiple levels, funding senior services is the right thing to do.
Beth Finkel is the state director of AARP New York