BCG: The U.S. Care Economy Is in Crisis

According to a new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report, the U.S. is facing a looming care crisis that it can no longer afford to ignore, one that could cost up to $290 billion a year in GDP in 2030 and beyond if it is not addressed.

Working parents across the nation are reducing their availability or even leaving their jobs due to a lack of accessible and affordable care for children and aging family members, potential family builders are holding off on having children, and an aging baby boomer population is putting an enormous strain on senior care services. BCG estimated the size of the care economy could be up to $6 trillion, nearly a quarter of total U.S. GDP. Roughly half of that figure is the actual formal care economy, with the value of unpaid caregiving estimated at between $2.5 and $3.5 trillion, and even paid caregiving having potentially up to $400 billion in gray-market value.

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While this segment of the economy is growing rapidly, there is little coordinated action to address gaps and organize comprehensive solutions to an expanding problem with potentially dire consequences. The care crisis is tied to the market for hourly low-wage labor, with an estimated 1.8 million critical care jobs including nursing assistants, home health aides, and childcare workers remaining open, with demand poised to grow well beyond that number over the next ten years.

While demand for employees may be increasing, the jobs themselves generally pay less than a living wage, offer poor benefits, provide inadequate training, and require workers to be onsite with inflexible hours and unexpected overtime. Other industries that compete for the same workers are drawing away current care economy employees with better pay, working conditions, and benefits.

With the dangers of a gutted care industry more than clear, filling paid care jobs is an issue for both the public and private sector. Private employers can improve paid care supply and make jobs more attractive by raising wages, improving benefits, providing better working conditions, and building a care worker pipeline to meet future demand, along with utilizing technology and tools to increase efficiency and reduce the difficulty of paid care work.

The public sector can also prove crucial in turning the tide by providing assistance to reduce the burdens on employed caregivers through a subsidized national childcare program, implementing national paid caregiver leave policies, and placing a higher economic value on caregivers and care work.

As the need for a deeper pool of caregivers becomes more acute, intentional economic and cultural shifts driven by a collaboration between private industry and government stakeholders will prove crucial to ensuring that these truly essential workers will stay to provide critical care, both now and in the future.