The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Economic Hardship and Grandparent Caregiving in Appalachia

Friday, January 18, 2013: 3:00 PM
Executive Center 3B (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Ben Alexander-Eitzman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Deborah Phillips, PhD, Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Background and Purpose:  The purpose of this study is to identify and expose how recent economic changes have impacted families and family structure in the Appalachian region. It is particularly important for counties and states to get a ‘big picture’ view of where the brunt of economic distress is felt in this understudied region and who are bearing the largest burdens. We hypothesize that the recent economic upheaval of the past five years has pressured many families to rely on grandparents to provide care for their grandchildren and that these trends are particularly evident in the Appalachian region due to longstanding historical trends and unique cultural factors. Previous studies have detailed how this shift in caregiving responsibilities affects the short and long term health and well-being of grandparents and their grandchildren. State level differences should also be evident as each state has a different benefit structure (i.e. subsidized guardianship) for grandparents who provide the primary care for their own grandchildren. The results of this study should be useful to stakeholders interested in the well-being of children, families, and older adults at local, state, and national levels.

Methods:  This study uses the most recent 5-year data from the American Community Survey to identify spatial clusters where grandparents are primary caretakers for grandchildren in the Appalachian region which spans 420 counties in 13 states. County level data were downloaded, recoded, and aggregated using the R programming language then visually mapped using GIS software. Estimates and margins of error were calculated for rates of grandparent caregiving along with poverty, children living in grandparent only households, and other indicators of poverty and economic distress. Comparisons were also made between Appalachian and national sub-regions.

Results: We identify concentrated areas and sub-regions representing high rates of grandparent caregiving and grandparent caregiving households in poverty. These areas are generally, but not always, concentrated in areas such as Central and Southern Appalachia that have much higher rates of economic distress than surrounding counties and national sub-regions. These area differences also point towards state level influences on concentrations of grandparent caregiving. In Central Appalachia (parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee), we estimate that rates of adults 30 years or older that have primary responsibility for a grandchild are 70% higher than the national average and of these grandparent caregiving households just over 31% have incomes below poverty (compared to a 19% poverty rate nationally for grandparent  caregiving households). These and further comparisons are presented along with maps representing the spatial distribution of these rates.

Conclusions and Implications:  This is a first important step in uncovering how Appalachian families have been responding to the economic stresses of the past five years. While grandparents can provide an important resource for these families, advocates and state level policy makers need to be aware of the potential downstream costs to children and older adults over time.  Additional implications for policy and research will be detailed and discussed.