Family Caregivers Provide Nearly a Half Trillion Dollars in Unpaid Care

Family Caregiving Infographic (PRNewsFoto/AARP)

Family Caregiving Infographic (PRNewsFoto/AARP)

Due to advances in health and medicine, Americans are living longer on average than any time before. As most people are fans of living, this is a good thing, but it does create challenges for the caregivers who provide care to aging family members. A recent study from the AARP quantified the amount of help given by family caregivers and found it equals nearly half a trillion dollars every year in unpaid care.

According to the recent Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update from the AARP, family caregivers in the U.S. provided 37 billion hours of care, worth an estimated $470 billion,to their parents, spouses, partners, and other adult loved ones in 2013. The estimate is based on a meta-analysis of 11 U.S.-based surveys of family caregivers conducted between 2009 and 2014. So it’s about 40 million family caregivers providing an average of 18 hours of care per week, at an average value of $12.51 per hour.

To look at it another way, if this estimated unpaid economic activity provided by family caregivers is accurate, it surpassed total Medicaid spending ($449 billion) in 2013, and nearly equaled the annual sales ($469 billion) of the four largest U.S. tech companies combined (Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Microsoft) during the same period..

Most patients prefer care at home to placement in a hospital or retirement community, but there are significant impacts for the family members who provide this care. According to analysis, three out of five, (60%) family caregivers had full- or part-time jobs. More than half (55%) of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs. Similarly, nearly 4 in 10 (38%) reported a moderate (20%) to high degree (18%) of financial strain as a result of providing care.

“Family caregiving today is much more complex, stressful, and costly for caregivers than ever before,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. “This new report shows some of the progress that’s been made to help caregivers, but we need to do much more in public policy, in the workplace, and in the health care system.”

The issue of supporting family caregivers will only grow in importance as a large aging Baby Boomer population will face a smaller pool of available family members to provide support. The ratio of potential family caregivers to the growing number of older people has already begun a steep decline, according to the AARP. In 2010, there were 7.2 potential family caregivers for every person age 80 and older. By 2030, that ratio will fall drop to 4 to 1, and is projected to drop further to 3 to 1 in 2050. Within 35 years, there will be half as many potential family caregivers than there are now.

Applications for this Research For Caregivers, Healthcare Providers, and Public Policy

Before proceeding to the applications of the research, it should be noted that this is a meta analysis, where the researchers combined data from other surveys, so the resulting estimates are less accurate. Combining data from different survey runs the risk of each survey using a slightly different criteria for data collection, so combining them as if they’re from the same source is problematic. Meta analyses are useful, but their usefulness for generalizations is limited.

That said, this analysis from the AARP has applications for a variety of sectors. First, the AARP, as an public policy advocacy group, recommends several ways the government can support and promote family caregiving. Increasing the situations where Medicare and Medicaid will pay for family caregiving, providing tax benefits to households with family caregiver, and so on.

“Over the past four years since the last report came out, we’ve seen a number of new policies at the federal and state level that are improving awareness about family caregivers’ needs,” said Susan C. Reinhard, RN, PhD, Senior Vice President and Director, AARP Public Policy Institute, and lead author of the new report. “We need multiple approaches to better help caregiving families, including such things as tax credits, improved workplace flexibility, respite care, home care services, and better training of family caregivers. Solutions to support family caregivers will need to come from both the private and public sectors.”

In the private sector, business owners should be looking at ways to help support employees who are family caregivers at home. As this research shows, going into the future, the issue of family caregiving will touch just about every worker. Businesses that are unable to use employees with family caregiving responsibilities will find themselves looking at a very diminished hiring pool, with a lot of talented people going to companies that are supportive of their family responsibilities with flexible schedules and telecommuting options.

There’s also an opportunity for business owners and entrepreneurs who can think of affordable services that help family caregivers save time and money. A laundromat could easily make extra money and help caregivers by offering a service where they pick up and drop off laundry for some customers, thus saving them a few hours every week. Restaurants (that normally don’t do delivery) can work out arrangements to bring meals to patrons on a certain night so a caregiver is free to do something else. For small, local businesses, doing these kind of things will generate revenue and a lot of good will in the community (so long as the costs remain low).

Caregivers can take matters into their own hands by using internet resources to connect with local services and charities that provide some of the services mentioned above for free. Many states have programs specifically to help the elderly and there also many religious organizations with similar services. Caregivers can also join online support groups of other caregivers to find ways they can help one another.

Donald Postway

About Donald Postway

Donald Postway is a freelance communications specialist and business analyst. He has a master's degree in public administration and a bachelor's degree in communication, both from the University of North Florida. He has worked in a variety of industries, including local government, information technology, marketing, retail and more.

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