A new study from the US Census Bureau, reported here, shows that more 2.4 million American grandparents are raising at least one grandchild under the age of 18.
There are many reasons, ranging from the death or incapacity of the parents, custody battles, and issues of drugs and even crime. But it seems the issue has been made even more acute by a double dose of crises — opioids and covid.
A little-known or under-reported fact: covid orphaned more than 140,000 American children, who now have to rely on other support — mainly grandparents, where possible.
And the opioid crisis is killing more than 100,000 Americans a year, many of them young parents. The grandparents then have to step in.
According to the Census Bureau, about half the grandparents are aged 60 years or older. Two thirds are married, and a bit more than half are still working.
But a fifth live below the poverty line, and a quarter have a disability. About 14 percent do not speak English well.
They are also disproportionately black or brown, and living in the South.
There are important implications here for social policy.
First, grandparenting actually saves the system money — about $4 billion a year in savings to the child welfare system, according to the US federal government.
But in return, the grandparents get scandalously little support. Many are having to dip into their retirement savings to meet the sudden costs of raising their grandchildren. Worse, the very existence of those retirement savings may make them ineligible to receive support from welfare programs that may be particularly critical in helping them raise the grandkids.
For example, the feds are trimming back food stamp programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) and the presence of retirement savings could push the grandparents’ income to a level that would disqualify them for this important benefit.
As it is, according to a report cited in the article, a quarter of grandparent-headed households are challenged to always put enough food on the table — more than double the national rate.
Is anybody noticing? Bob Casey, Senator from Pennsylvania and chair of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, has introduced two bills to both streamline and expand grandparent access to both financial and social resources.
This is a vitally important issue, and its importance will only grow. We’ll try to get data from other countries, as well.