Policy Research Brief, Vol. 30, No. 3

The Employment Impacts of Being a Family Caregiver

policy research brief, institute on community integration, university of minnesota

Research Issue

Family members often play essential roles in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including providing medical, emotional, financial, and day-to-day support. Most individuals with disabilities live in their family home, whether or not they receive formal services. Family members who are the primary providers of support often have to make choices related to employment that can affect their long-term financial well-being, including leaving the workforce altogether.

Because people may be supporting their family members well into adulthood, this has important implications for the household's long-term and short-term financial health as well as the person leaving the workforce. The person who left the workforce loses income, benefits, and contributions to Social Security or retirement plans. This may lead to reductions in available financial resources for the household. Caregiving has primarily been the role of women, leaving them more than twice as likely to live in poverty as their peers who do not provide supports to a family member.

Study Background

The Family & Individual Needs for Disability Supports (FINDS) survey was conducted in 2023 with caregivers who were family members or friends of someone with IDD and provided support. The study did not include direct support professionals or other caregivers whose primary relationship with individuals with IDD was as a paid support person. The survey was completed by 3,118 people, including respondents from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

Policy Recommendations

Family caregivers indicated policy recommendations that would be most beneficial to them. These included government programs, policy changes, and employer-provided benefits:

Government Policy Changes

  • An income tax credit or deduction for caregivers to offset the cost of care.
  • A partially paid leave of absence from work for caregivers who are employed.
  • A program where caregivers could be paid for at least some of the hours they provide support.

Employer-Provided Benefits

  • An employee assistance program that provides case management services.
  • Help navigating the special education or adult services systems as a benefit employers provide.

Key Findings

The economic effects are likely different for people who may lose wages if they are late for work or miss shifts than those for those with flexible work schedules.

This is a bar chart that shows the effects on employment stemming from FINDS participants’ caregiving responsibilities. These included:

77% went in late, left early or took time off during the day to provide supports

55% were purposely underemployed

51% went to part-time work or who cut back their hours

41% gave up work entirely

41% took a leave of absence

34% turned down a promotion

32% turned down a job opportunity in another state

27% lost job benefits

26% received a warning about performance or attendance at work

25% retired early

Households with lower and higher household incomes experience different economic effects of caregiving.

Households with lower incomes may have jobs that do not offer flexibility such as being able to come to work late. They may also have only one wage earner.

Higher income households often have two wage earners and may have the resources to leave the workforce, retire early, or cut back hours.

This chart is a follow-up the the first chart. This barbell chart shows the difference in employment outcomes for lower-income households (income of $60,000 per year or less) or higher-income households (incomes of more than $60,000 per year). For each of the areas identified, participants with higher household incomes were more likely to report having had one of these experiences. The employment outcomes experienced include; going in late, leaving early or taking time off during the day to provide supports, being purposely underemployed, going to part-time work or cutting back hours, giving up work entirely, taking a leave of absence, turning down a promotion, turning down a job opportunity in another state, losing job benefits, receiving a warning about performance or attendance at work, or retiring early.

Women are more likely than men to be the primary support person for their family member with IDD. This may explain why they are likely to include work part time or stopping work altogether. Outcomes experienced by men are more likely tied directly to a specific job, such as changes in benefits or taking a leave of absence.

This barbell chart is a follow up to the first chart. It shows the differences men and women have related to employment outcomes. Women were more likely to report giving up work entirely, purposely being underemployed, going to part-time work or cutting back their hours, or going in late, leaving early, or taking time off during the day. Men were more likely to report receiving a warning about work performance or attendance, retiring early, and losing job benefits. Both men and women reported similar experiences with turning down a job opportunity in another state, taking a leave of absence, or turning down a promotion.

Policy Forum

The Policy Forum on this issue of Policy Research Brief will be on Friday, February 16, 2023, from 1–2:30 p.m. CT. Register here.

The Policy Forum is a bi-monthly web-based presentation and facilitated discussion exploring research published in the most recent Policy Research Brief. Please visit the website for details and to view previous forums.

Published September 2023

Author: Lynda Lahti Anderson

Managing editor: Julie Bershadsky

Graphic design: Connie Burkhart

Research cited:

Anderson, L., Sutcliffe, T. J., Pettingell, S. A., & Hewitt, A. (2018). Employment outcomes and paid leave for caregivers of children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. [Research Brief 9]. Family Support Research and Training Centre, University of Illinois at Chicago. https://doi-org.ezp2.lib.umn.edu/10.13140/RG.2.2.14125.54248

Development of this PRB was supported by Cooperative Agreement #90DNPA0001-01 and Grant #90RT5019 from the Administration on Community Living to the University of Minnesota. Points of view do not necessarily represent official ACL policy.

Policy Research Brief: z.umn.edu/rtcprb

The University of Minnesota is an equal-opportunity educator and employer. This document is available in alternative formats upon request.

The Institute on Community Integration (ICI), collectively acknowledges that Minnesota is located on the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabe, Chippewa, Ojibwe, Dakota, Cheyenne, and other Native peoples. This land holds great historical, spiritual, and personal significance for its original stewards, the Native nations and peoples of this region. We affirm tribal sovereignty and will work to hold ourselves and affiliations accountable to American Indian peoples and Nations.

Ongoing oppression and discrimination in the United States has led to significant trauma for many people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and other oppressed persons. At ICI, we affirm our commitment to address systemic racism, ableism, and all other inequalities and forms of oppression to ensure inclusive communities.