Un-Sticking the Middle: Joe Biden’s Plan to Help the Sandwich Generation

Joe Biden knows what it is like to be part of the sandwich generation, stuck in the middle, with both aging parents and children to take care of. And when he takes office in a few short weeks, he wants to work to take the burden off those who are aging and those who are caring for them. As public servants throughout their entire careers, both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are looking to help as many people they can in as many ways as they can. Untangling the problem of caregivers overseeing elderly parents and young children, while still holding on to a job, is at the top of their agenda.

“There’s growing recognition of the essential help provided by family caregivers, and an emerging consensus among both Democrats and Republicans that they need more support,” Dr. Richard Johnson said. “So the time might be right to enact meaningful federal legislation.”

Connecting the Dots

Biden understands you cannot pull one string without affecting everything else, and his plan reflects that. With an unprecedented 775-billion-dollar price tag over ten years, the plan wants to firm up FMLA, Social Security, and Medicaid, while creating new options for elderly who would normally end up in nursing homes, and new safety nets for relatives who care for the elderly.

Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, is happy about the way Biden is planning. “It approaches the care economy in a holistic way, across the age spectrum.”  The plan encompasses a lot of angles, but some of the most important elements include high-quality preschools for toddlers, better jobs for home care workers, rebalancing Medicaid for older and disabled adults, and improving the Family and Medical Leave Act. This would offer families 12 weeks of paid leave to give family time off for childcare or caring for elderly parents.

The plan reflects the country’s need to shore up the system and help those trapped in the middle. The very rich can get the help they need for schools, eldercare, and retirement. The very poor can use the safety net of Medicaid. But for those stuck in the middle-income brackets, there is a real disconnect between working, paying for bills, family care, and saving for retirement.  COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis further show how tenuous some citizen’s economic livelihood is, just one diagnosis or accident away from losing everything. Biden’s plan would help middle-income workers who work so hard but never seem to get ahead.

Senior Specials

Much of Biden’s plan focuses on helping senior citizens. He is especially concerned about Social Security. In April, the Social Security Administration projected that “its funds could be depleted in 2035, at which point only 79% of benefits would be payable.” Considering how many elderly people rely on Social Security to stay alive, this is devastating news. And this did not even take into account the further fiscal damage caused by the longevity of the coronavirus.

Part of the problem is that people do not plan for retirement, but it is very difficult to plan when you are living paycheck to paycheck. Biden’s plan is trying to tighten up every angle: making sure Social Security helps the elderly, but also making sure that working-class people can take care of their families and also save for retirement at the same time.

Forbes Magazine reports that “about half of working family members between the ages of 30 and 59 risked a lower standard of living in retirement, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. In July, that estimate rose to 55%, and it’s even higher among older Americans who are closer to their golden years.” While living paycheck to paycheck, Americans are having trouble saving for retirement. With the cost of living, paying for children’s college tuition, unexpected expenses for houses and cars, and other unexpected expenses, Biden’s plan aims to close the gap for people who have to make tough decisions.

One reason for this is that people often underestimate how long they will live. “About two-thirds of pre-retirement American men underestimate how many years the average 65-year-old male has left, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity,” If people are stuck taking care of family and not able to save, and they live longer than expected, they can easily run out of money during their golden years.

One shining idea is that Biden wants to give eligible workers a “guaranteed minimum benefit equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty level.” This would help bridge the gap between the cost of living and what people have been able to save.

The Nuts and Bolts

Along with making sure senior citizens have enough money for their golden years, Biden also wants to make sure they have more options. He wants to help states develop more alternatives to nursing homes and will ensure federal contributions to do so.

He also aims to help families who are trying to take care of elderly parents by giving tax credits up to $5,000 to reimburse families for expenses incurred during unpaid caregiving, and $7,400 out of pocket annually to help elderly relatives.

One way he can do this is by rolling back tax breaks for over $400,000 income real estate investors and increasing tax compliance.

Besides helping families care for their own relatives, his plan also aims to create 3 million new caregiving and education jobs. This will give more people quality jobs and help to fix the problem from the front end.

Biden has his work cut out for him. Even spread over ten years, the 775-billion-dollar price tag is daunting. And with some races still undecided, he is not positive of how much support he will receive in the House and Senate to pass the new measures he has in mind. But one thing is certain: He understands the predicament of many Americans who face tough decisions about caring for their children, their parents, and their careers.

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