Economic Hardship and Grandparent Caregiving in Appalachia
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.