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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging
Approximately 41 million unpaid family caregivers provided
an estimated 34 billion hours of care in 2017 — worth a whopping $470 billion —
to their parents, spouses, partners, and friends, according to the latest
report in AARP’s Valuing the Invaluable series. The 2019 estimated value of
family caregiving is based on 41 million caregivers providing an average of 16
hours of care per week, at an average value of $13.81 per hour. Previous AARP
Public Policy reports were released in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015.
“It’s encouraging to see greater recognition of the
emotional, physical and financial struggles that caregivers face,” said Susan
Reinhard, senior vice president, AARP Public Policy Institute, in an April 14th
statement announcing the release of the 32-page report. “But the demands on
family caregivers are not just a family issue and we must continue to push for
meaningful support and solutions,” says Reinhard.
Every caregiver, as well as their families, know the value
of their efforts,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “In
Rhode Island, the estimated total value of 114 million hours of work by the
state’s 136,000 caregivers is $1.8 billion. The aggregate is astounding, making
a clear case for supporting this vital commitment made by family and loved
“These numbers inspire our members who spend many hours at
the State House as AARP Rhode Island advocacy volunteers,” Connell added. “They
have helped pass key legislation — the CARE Act, paid caregiver leaves and many
other key bills — that have given caregivers resources and opportunities to make
their task less daunting. Caregivers are truly invaluable,” she says.
Putting a Spotlight on the Nation’s Caregivers
AARP’s report notes that the estimated $470 billion equates
to about $1,450 for every person in the United States (325 million people in 2017).
Its economic impact is more than all out-of-pocket spending on US health care
in 2017 ($366 billion). Uncompensated care provided by caregivers is also three
times as much as total Medicaid spending on long-term services (LTSS) and
supports ($154 billion in 2016) and even the total spending from all sources of
paid LTSS, including post-acute care ($366 billion in 2016).
The AARP researchers say that the estimate of $470 billion
in economic value of uncompensated care is consistent with nearly two decades
of prior research studies, all of which found (like the current study) that the
value of unpaid family care vastly exceeds the value of paid home care.
The AARP report, Valuing the Invaluable: 2019 Update
Charting a Path Forward, also explores the growing scope and complexity of
caregiving, including an aging population, more family caregivers in the paid
workforce, and the increasing amount of medical and nursing tasks entering the
According to the AARP report, family care givers, who
provide day-to-day supports and services and manage complex care tasks, are
becoming more diverse. While most family caregivers are women, about 40 percent
are men who are providing more assistance than just driving to doctor’s
appointments and grocery stores or paying bills. Like all caregivers, they are
assisting a parent, spouse or friend with bathing and dressing, pain
management, managing medication, changing dressings, helping with incontinence
and even preparing special diets.
While a majority of baby boomers are providing caregiving
services, a growing number of younger adults are now shouldering this
responsibility, too. Nearly 1 in 4 (24 percent) are millennials (born between
1980 and 1996). Despite their low salaries, the young adults are spending more
of their salary on caregiving expenses than other generations. The researchers
estimated that this spending in 2016 was about 27 percent of their income.
About 60 percent of family caregivers are juggling a job and
providing care, too. This will continue as aging baby boomers choose to remain
in the labor force to bring additional income into their household. Workplace
benefits for caregivers becomes become even more important as they face
economic and financial strain in their later years.
For those employees who choose to leave their job to become
a full-time caregiver, they risk both short-and long-term financial
difficulties, say the researchers.
Finally, the researcher’s recommendations to better support
family caregivers included developing a robust and comprehensive national
strategy with the needs of an increasingly diverse caregiver population
included; providing financial relief and expanding workplace policies;
developing caregiver training programs; and expanding state and federal funding
for respite programs.
More Work Needs to Be Done
The AARP report warns that the rising demand for caregivers
with the graying of the nation’s population, shrinking families will
drastically reduce the supply. In 2010, there were 7.1 potential family
caregivers for every person age 80 and over. By 2030, there may be only 4.1
potential caregivers for every person age 80 and over, they say.
Although significant federal and state policy are already in
place to assist the nation’s caregivers, more work needs to be done, say the
researchers. They call on Congress and state lawmakers to keep pace with the
changing demographic, social trends and needs of the family caregiver.
Resources and information on family caregiving, including
AARP’s Prepare to Care Guides, are available at http://www.aarp.org/caregiving.
Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 17, 2019
Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.