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AARP: Voters across party lines support help for family caregivers

A new survey of Virginia voters ages 40-plus paints a portrait of the difficult challenges facing unpaid family caregivers, and sends a clear message to state candidates about what they want.

“People across Virginia face critical, mounting strains that come with being unpaid caregivers for their loved ones,” said Jim Dau, AARP Virginia State Director. “Candidates for office would do well to tell voters how they plan to help them with this real-life, every day challenge.”

Caregiving in Virginia

More than 1 million Virginians serve as family caregivers, helping with regular activities like driving to medical appointments and shopping, as well as more advanced responsibilities like managing finances and performing medical tasks. In 2013, these caregivers provided $11.7 billion in uncompensated care.

The new AARP survey found that more than four-in-ten (43%) of all voters ages 40-plus in Virginia have experienced being unpaid family caregivers, including 13% who are currently providing care. Nearly two-in-three (64%) of current and former caregivers have worked while they provided care to loved ones and about as many (63%) have spent their own money doing so.

Other key findings include:

  • Three-in-ten (30%) caregivers have dipped into their retirement savings to support their loved ones, and more than a quarter (27%) have had problems paying for their everyday necessities for themselves and their families.
  • Almost seven-in-ten (69%) feel emotionally stressed; 33% have experienced problems with their health due to their caregiving responsibilities; and 26% had problems making time to see their own doctors.
  • A little more than half (53%), say their loved ones would have to move to institutional care settings if they were no longer able to serve as caregivers.

“These caregivers risk their own financial security and physical health, while also saving taxpayers billions of dollars per year,” added Dau. “They are on missions of love, but unless they get help, something’s got to give.”

What voters want

Even in an increasingly divisive political environment, a near consensus of all voters ages 40-plus – regardless of their party affiliation or whether they have provided care or not – agree that family caregivers should get more help and agree on several measures that could provide it.

Nearly nine-in-ten Virginia voters ages 40-plus support giving caregivers some form of flexibility at their jobs, including allowing them to use sick leave for caregiving (88%); making sure they can’t get fired for caregiving (85%); or requiring employers to provide some unpaid (82%) or paid (77%) leave. A similar number (85%) support providing caregivers with short-term help by a home health aide so they can take a break.

Other key findings include:

  • 82% of all Virginia voters ages 40-plus say they vote in state elections at least most of the time, including 58% who say they always vote.
  • These voters report a roughly even partisan split among Democrats (28%), Republicans (25%), and Independents (25%).

“While this survey focuses on voters 40-plus, there are approximately 250,000 millennial caregivers in Virginia facing similar strains,” added Dau. “To any candidate running for the General Assembly, the message is clear: voters of all political stripes, backgrounds, and ages want help for struggling caregivers.”