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A few days ago, The Wall Street Journal reported on a sobering trend. Millions of Americans have reached elderly age with increasingly fewer family members near their proximity to provide basic care. Without this critical support that has traditionally been in place for prior generations, a new generation of elderly Americans face a stark, uncertain future.

Worse yet, the situation has no ready solution. According to WSJ’s Clare Ansberry:

The caregiving crunch comes at a time when Americans reaching retirement age are in a squeeze unseen in generations. Their median incomes, including Social Security and retirement fund receipts, haven’t risen in years. They have high average debt, some incurred from taking care of their own aging parents. And if they’re counting on family to care for them, too, they may well find their families too small and far-flung to meet the task.

Today, an estimated 34.2 million people provide unpaid care to those 50 and older. These caregivers, about 95% family, and long the backbone of the nation’s long-term care system, provide an estimated $500 billion worth of free care annually—three times Medicaid’s professional long-term care spending—and help keep people out of costly institutions, according to a 2017 Merrill Lynch study.

Ansberry further explained that the country is running out of professional caregivers at a time when they’re needed the most. Even if an available caregiver is found, the costs can be enormous. According to a 2017 Cost of Care Survey by Genworth, the average full-time aide costs $49,000. Expect that figure to rise significantly for key, metropolitan areas.

Arguably this is one of the most ironic elements about retirement planning: while money is certainly a factor, money alone cannot solve the retirement dilemma. The most important investment – family — doesn’t cost any financial resources at all.

But this concept extends beyond simply having children. Do your children have pride in who they are, and from where they came? Do they, as the Good Book states, honor their parents? Or are they instead children of this present age, seeking after the follies of this world, and abandoning their families at their hour of greatest need?

Retirement planning almost always focuses on capital growth. Perhaps we should spend some time developing our relationships – with our families, our neighbors, and our communities. Because a critical life lesson is that, eventually, we all depend upon someone else.

It’s better to learn this lesson having accrued wealth in meaningful pursuits rather than merely the superficial.

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