As America Ages, Part One: Boomers often must care for their children, parents

Kevin Bruce and Evonne Bruce talk with their youngest son, Evan Bruce, at their home in Harvard. The Bruce's allow their two grown sons to live at home while they look for jobs and go to school.
Kevin Bruce and Evonne Bruce talk with their youngest son, Evan Bruce, at their home in Harvard. The Bruce's allow their two grown sons to live at home while they look for jobs and go to school.

Now in their early 50s, Evonne and Kevin Bruce hardly imagined they still would be running errands, picking up groceries and financially supporting three other people.

The Harvard couple were supposed to be empty-nesters, enjoying a hard-earned freedom after raising a family during the last two decades.

They never thought they would be asking their 24-year-old son, Aaron, for rent for living at home for the past few years or helping their 19-year-old son Evan land a job, while doing daily errands for Evonne Bruce’s 71-year-old mother, Delorise.

But yet, they are still caring for family members at vastly different stages in life – a product, experts note, of a baby boomer generation sandwiched between other ones.

“I think a lot of baby boomers have just come to the conclusion that this is the way it is, unfortunately,” Evonne Bruce said. “We never expected 32 years ago to be in this boat.

“This is the time I feel our kids should be moved out and living lives of their own, and we should be sightseeing, going on vacation and doing things that empty-nesters in their 50s should be doing.”

Despite the frustration, Evonne and Kevin Bruce see it as their responsibility to care for their family, as do others from their generation.

The Bruces are part of the baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964. As baby boomers start to cross the threshold into retirement age en masse – 10,000 boomers a day turn 65 – more of their attention is turning to family and the need to care for their aging parents while helping their adult children in a down economy.

“The baby boomer generation often fills in the family,” said Lucia Jones, executive director for the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging. “They are often saddled with responsibilities to their parents, as well as their younger children.”

Jones’ agency helps coordinate federal funds and general resources to local senior service agencies throughout the Chicago area, including organizations in DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

The agency coordinates with local groups like Family Alliance in Woodstock and the Senior Services Associates in McHenry and Crystal Lake, which have seen the county’s 60 and older population nearly double since 2000 to 49,340 people.

Many in that demographic are baby boomers, who have found themselves filling the caregiving role for their aging parents, who are living longer than previous generations, Jones said.

Being a family

As an only child, Evonne Bruce moved her mom from Indiana closer to an independent senior living facility in Harvard. Since then, she travels to doctor appointments, picks up prescriptions and shops for groceries for Delorise, who is in overall good health but operates without a car.

When Delorise recovered from a broken ankle last year, Evonne and Kevin Bruce paid for a secondary health insurance plan to help her cover the hefty medical expenses, while transporting her to facilities across McHenry and Lake counties.

As a primary caregiver, Evonne Bruce spends a couple of hours a day with her mom.

“I feel that it is something that needs to be done. Just because you’re old doesn’t mean that you should be tossed to the side,” Evonne Bruce said. “People are still human beings and still need somebody to take care of them and somebody to love them. That’s what being a part of a family is. You’re there to help them regardless.”

At home, the couple still provide a roof, food, health and car insurance for their two sons. The oldest, Aaron, will likely stay at home for another two to three years, as he pursues a radiology degree from Rock Valley College in Rockford.

He also works seasonal hours as a certified welder at an area manufacturer, but still doesn’t make enough to live on his own, Kevin Bruce said.

Their younger son, Evan, graduated Harvard High School this spring and has been looking for full-time work in a slow economy since his junior year.

“I think our kids have a pretty good work ethic,” Kevin Bruce said. “They have no problem working hard and earning an income. It’s just that things aren’t as available as you would hope. ... It’s tough for them.”

The dual caregiving role also has put increasing strain on Evonne and Kevin Bruce. Evonne Bruce hasn’t landed a job since being laid off four years ago and Kevin Bruce was laid off earlier this year at a cellphone company.

The lack of employment forced the couple to start charging Aaron rent at a modest rate of $125 a month. Evan will have to chip in, once he starts earning a full-time income. The effort, the couple said, is meant to help the family weather financial difficulty and teach their sons about the realities of paying for housing.

The total lifetime financial impact – in terms of lost wages, Social Security benefits and private pensions – for the average baby boomer to care for their parents alone is $303,880, a 2011 study from MetLife on the caregiving costs for working baby boomers found.

That is the cost for leaving the labor force early or reducing hours worked because of caregiving responsibilities.

A 2012 survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 59 percent of parents are providing financial support to adult children who no longer are in school. The support includes assistance with living expenses, transportation costs, medical bills and paying back home loans, the survey found.

“It’s just hard,” Evonne Bruce said of being a dual caregiver. “We do the best we can and get through each and every day that we can. It has its good days, and its bad days.”

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