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Canada’s ‘sandwich’ generation financially strapped

Brenda Bouw
Canada’s ‘sandwich’ generation financially strapped

More than 2 million Canadians are “sandwiched” between caring for their young children and aging parents at the same time, a role that is not only physically draining, but also financially for the family and the economy.

Statistics Canada says 28 per cent of the 8.1 million caregivers in Canada are part of what’s known as the “sandwich generation,” most of them women between ages 35 and 44.

The pressures also have wide-reaching economic implications including lost time at work, difficulty retaining workers who may have to choose between their jobs and caring for loved ones, and lower incomes from lost hours that can increase reliance on federal programs to help make ends meet.

While the “sandwiched" are the most squeezed, StatsCan says these are also issues for all caregivers, which represent about 28 per cent of Canadians age 15 years and older.

“As might be expected, those who provided care to their child or spouse had the most difficulty reconciling caregiving responsibilities with professional obligations,” says one in a series of StatsCan reports on the subject released this week titled, Family Caregiving: What are the consequences?

About 43 per cent of caregivers in the study reported arriving to work late, leaving early or take time off during the day to care for their ill family member or friend. That figure increased to 54 per cent for people providing 20 or more hours of caregiving per week.

Flexible work needed as Baby Boomers age

The reliance on caregiving is expected to grow as the Baby Boom generation ages. A similar study released in the spring, commissioned by Desjardins Financial, calls on Canadian companies to find ways to accommodate the anticipated growing number of caregivers through more flexible practices and policies.

“The high percentage of knowledge workers with caregiving responsibilities, particularly multi-generational caregiving responsibilities, reinforces the fact that Canadian companies must address the needs of these employees if they want to attract and retain talent in a seller’s market,” says the report Balancing work, childcare and eldercare: A view from the trenches, written by Linda Duxbury at Carleton University and Christopher Higgins at the University of Western Ontario.

While women are the primary caregivers, the Desjardins report says companies will need to start recognizing the role for both sexes, “as an increasing number of male employees will be implicated in caregiving.”

Another issue for caregivers is the financial pressures. StatsCan says 1 in 5 caregivers receive some type of financial support. While help from friends and family was the most common at 12 per cent, government programs (7 per cent) and federal tax credits (5 per cent) were also required.

"The financial impacts related to caring for a loved one can be significant," StatsCan says. "Lost days at work may reduce household income, while out-of-pocket expenses, such as purchasing specialized aids or devices, transportation costs, and hiring professional help to assist with care, can be borne from caring for a loved one."