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Posted: December 02, 2008

Unpaid US Caregiving Value Tops $375 Billion, Grows at Fast Pace

While elder-caregiving extracts a heavy toll on family caregivers of every stripe and is priceless to the elderly who benefit, the economic value of the care they provide in the United States equaled a whopping $375 billion in 2007, an increase of 7% over just one year earlier.

According to a new report by the AARP Public Policy Institute, the estimated value of family caregiving exceeded even the $311 billion spent nationally in 2007 for Medicaid. The caregiving valuation of $375 billion in 2007 was $25 billion higher than AARP’s estimate for 2006.

The senior advocacy group also said the value of family caregiving also now exceeds Medicaid’s long-term care spending in every state. The new estimate reflects an increase in the U.S. population, the aging of the population, and a higher estimate of the average value for one hour of care, AARP reported. 

The report estimates that 34 million Americans provide more than 20 hours of unpaid care per week to another adult, making informal caregiving a cornerstone of US health and long-term care. 

“Family caregivers are a vital and largely unrecognized part of America's health and long-term care system,” said AARP Policy Director John Rother, noting that family caregiving has been shown to reduce hospital readmissions and delay entry into nursing homes. “We often overlook how much family and friends contribute -- whether it's picking up groceries each week or providing daily health care for their loved ones.” 

The AARP report notes that informal caregivers of people age 50-plus spent an average of $5,531 out-of-pocket in 2007 to care for their loved ones. That spending was often coupled with lost workdays, wages, health insurance and retirement savings. More than one-third of informal caregivers are forced to quit their jobs or reduce their working hours, with women more likely to leave the labor force entirely. Caregivers also frequently struggle with health care bills and medical debt -- and experience chronic stress. Even less noticed is the physical, financial and emotional toll caregiving can take, Rother added. 

The AARP report makes several recommendations to assist caregivers, including adopting “family friendly” workplace policies; assessing caregivers’ needs and providing them with needed supports; expanding funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program and the Lifespan Respite Care Act; and supporting family caregivers in chronic care coordination programs and care transitions. 

Rother concluded: “Family caregivers are likely to be stretched even further in today’s tumultuous economy. Now is the time to ensure caregivers have the support they need. Everyone -- business, government and individuals -- can do more to give back to those who give so much.” 

The full report, “Valuing the Invaluable: The Economic Value of Family Caregiving 2008 Update,” is available at: www.aarp.org/research/housing-mobility/caregiving/i13_caregiving.html

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