Grandparents Keep Families Afloat

At least one in ten kids in the U.S. is being raised by a grandparent.

By Julianne Hing Sep 10, 2010

In this economic recession, fewer people’s retirements are filled with lazy days and trips to the bingo parlor. These days, grandparents are increasingly stepping in to become the primary caregivers for kids in America.

According to a new Pew Research Center report, at least one in ten kids in the U.S. is being raised by a grandparent today, a statistic that’s risen sharply since the recession’s start in 2007. The numbers of grandparents who serve as the primary caregivers of kids has been on a steady incline since the beginning of the 21st century, but 75 percent of that happened since December 2007.

As the recession has sent jobless families into foreclosure and families struggle to make ends meet, more grandparents are stepping in to help raise kids. There’s less government support for counseling and other social services to help keep families together. And everyday the war marches on, more parents in the military leave kids with their grandparents during their deployment.

Adrian Charniak is very familiar with this phenomena. The Chicago resident just turned 70, and is the caretaker of her 89-year-old mother, and the primary guardian to her 12-year-old grandson. "It’s hard. You just want to jump out the window sometimes," Charniak said of the stress of her role as a caregiver. "Except right now i’m sitting inside our basement so it’s not too far of a jump."

Charniak works with local groups to give support to Chicago area grandparents who find themselves raising kids for a second time. She says that her experience is not as unique as some might think.

Pew found that the upward trends had affected white families more than other racial groups. The rate of white grandparent caregivers grew 9 percent from 2007 to 2008, though the numbers of black grandparents grew by just 2 percent, and Latino families saw no change. For Asian American grandparents, the rate actually declined during the same time period. That more families of color already lived in multi-generational households pre-recession could explain the discrepancy.

According to Pew, almost three million children are being raised by at least one grandparent today. It’s a costly and emotionally taxing endeavor. Many people who are stepping in to raise their grandkids aren’t necessarily already living lazy days of a leisurely retirement. Many take in their grandkids while they’re still working, and dip into their retirement funds as they begin the parenting cycle anew.

Charniak says she and her husband rely heavily on their retirement fund to raise their grandson today. Still, Charniak does not resent her role. "Everyday with this boy is a gift," she said. "He’s an absolute joy."