LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Sandwich Generation is getting pressed

Many Delaware homes sit in foreclosure, at a rate that puts our state at the top of a very troubling list — and a brewing crisis for seniors.

Last year, Delaware’s foreclosure rate was 1.05 percent, the sixth-highest of any state in the country, more than 25 percent ahead of the national average. “How can that be?” you might ask, as most economic signposts in Delaware point toward an economy moving in the right direction.

Beyond the statistics, the heart of the problem lies with the Sandwich Generation. These men and women, born during the post-war Baby Boom years, are now in their 50s and 60s and find themselves caring for four-generation families. Many still have living parents who depend on them for care, as well as children with families of their own. They’re often squeezed for time, juggling their hours and their paychecks in an attempt to provide both end-of-life care and babysitting.

And soon, they might discover an awful truth: The cost of caring for their parents may strip away every bit of an inheritance they once expected to receive. As a result, many among the Sandwich Generation have no financial cushion when suddenly hit with a financial crisis.

The incredible costs of end-of-life care have eliminated safety nets for generations of Delawareans, not just the Sandwich Generation. But they are the ones who step up to help when their children are buying their first home, or when they cannot keep up with college tuition repayments, or all too often, when they develop a drug addiction. And when drugs enter the picture, members of the Sandwich Generation come to the rescue to raise their grandchildren.

But even as they may be providing financially for those grandkids, they are not necessarily guaranteed visitation rights.

Too many members of the Sandwich Generation are living paycheck-to-paycheck, even into their pre-retirement years, because they are busy taking care of so many other people. Is it any wonder when there is nothing left to save at the end of the month? And then, if that person loses her job — for whatever reason — the statistics also tell us that it is likely to take more than a year for her to find another a job, one that will likely pay less than what she was previously earning.

Make no mistake: The financial pressures on the Sandwich Generation are a distinct factor in Delaware’s high foreclosure rate, and the leading edge of a crisis that could leave a stain on our community for decades to come. We see this crisis approaching in skyrocketing Medicaid costs, billable to us taxpayers. We see it in families torn apart, where parents battle their kids for guardianship of the grandkids.

What are the solutions? We have to categorically change the way we support older Delawareans. We have to champion innovative solutions for our seniors, such the Saint Francis LIFE Center on the Wilmington Riverfront, which provides exceptionable care for seniors at half the cost of traditional nursing homes, or the Greater Lewes Community Village in Sussex, which provides low-cost support for seniors “aging in place.” We have to give grandparents common-sense authority if they are raising their grandchildren. And most importantly, we have to give urgency to easing the financial burdens on the Sandwich Generation.

And we have to do these things now, before this generation of caregivers is pressed beyond the breaking point.

Ciro Poppiti

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ciro Poppiti is the Register of Wills for New Castle County and a Democratic primary candidate for lieutenant governor.

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