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Grandparents face obstacles when trying to raise grandchildren

Editor's Note: This series first appeared in The Hays Daily News in 2010.

* * *

This is the first in a series of articles about grandparents raising grandchildren.

Q: What are the trends and statistics about grandparents raising grandchildren?

A: According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 4.5 million children living in households headed by grandparents. Of these children, 2.4 million live with grandparents who take primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren. An additional 1.5 million children reside with other relatives who are the primary caregivers for them.

Nearly 19 percent of grandparent caregivers are living in poverty. The majority of care-giving grandparents are working, and 71 percent are younger than 60 years of age. The majority of children who live with caregiving grandparents are 6 and older.

The majority of grandparent caregivers, 63 percent, are female.

There was a 30-percent increase in grandparent-headed households from 1990 to 2000. Since data from the 2010 census is just beginning to be collected, there is no census data available about grandparents raising children between 2000 and 2010.

Researcher Rebecca Cox wrote, and Professors Richard Miller and Stephen Duncan edited, a comprehensive overview of grandparents raising grandchildren. These authors from Brigham Young University focused on the concerns of grandparents raising grandchildren.

Most prominent among grandparent caregivers is the concern about poverty. Although the majority of these grandparents are working, (the authors estimated 57 percent), and are younger than 60 years of age, these older workers do have some concerns about employability.

According to the Wall Street Journal online on April 4, 2009, the unemployment rate for those persons 55 years and older is rising significantly. The number of persons 55 years and older classified by the federal government as having given up looking for jobs tripled from December 2007 to December 2008. This information has been released by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, once older workers become unemployed, they find it harder to locate jobs and they remain out of work longer than younger, unemployed workers. Thus, grandparents who re-enter the job market in order to support their grandchildren have more difficulty than younger persons seeking jobs.

Returning to the BYU article on grandparent caregiver concerns, health is high on the list. In general, parents who care for grandchildren have more health issues than those who are not caregivers.

Grandparents assuming responsibilities for raising grandchildren also have issues with housing. Many do not have enough bedrooms for their grandchildren and have to use makeshift arrangements. Such improvising leads to overcrowded bedrooms or children sleeping in general living quarters.

Along with housing concerns are transportation issues. Some grandparents do not own vehicles. Others have to trade off vehicles that do not accommodate larger families and purchase mini-vans, vans or other suitable means of transportation.

In Canada, there was a 20-percent rise in the number of children younger than 18 years of age living with grandparents and having no parents present in the households, between the years of 1991 and 2001. These Canadian grandparents were 59 percent female, and 57 percent were not in the labor force.

One third of the Canadian grandparent caregiver households had one grandparent with a disability. A third of the grandparent households made less than $15,000 yearly. Canadian grandmothers were poorer, more likely to be unmarried, more likely not to be in the labor force, and more likely to provide unpaid childcare than Canadian grandfathers.

Information regarding Canadian grandparent caregivers was published by Candace Kemp (2001) from McMaster University. Similarities exist between trends in the United States and Canada, although the subject of grandparents raising grandchildren has only recently become the focus of national attention in Canada.

The 2000 U.S. Census is the first national Census that asked questions about grandparents raising grandchildren, so the U.S. does not yet have a historical or long-term perspective on the development of the trends in grandparents raising grandchildren.

* Next week's article will continue the discussion about statistics and demographics regarding grandparents raising grandchildren.

Judy Caprez is associate professor and director of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work,

Rarick Hall, FHSU.