The economic impact of informal caregiving on the U.S. economy is massive according to a new AARP Public Policy Institute study, Valuing the Invaluable: A New Look at the Economic Value of Family Caregiving. The study found that the contributions of family caregivers often go unnoticed, but in fact, their contributions are the foundation of the nation's long-term care system with an estimated economic value of $350 billion in 2006.
"Family caregivers play a vital role and are the backbone for the long-term care network in this country," said AARP Director of Policy John Rother. "But the unpaid services they provide are not without costs. Lost time at work and reduced benefits adds to the emotional and physical strain of actually caring for a loved one."
The AARP study showed serious economic consequences for caregivers in the work force. As caregivers are forced to take time off and work partial days to care for their loved ones, the result is lower wages, a lack of job security, and loss or reduction of employment benefits like health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security. And these losses come at a time when income and benefits are critical for the caregiver and their family.
For those with the most intense level of caregiving responsibility, 92% report major changes in their working patterns; 83% arrive late, leave early or take time off during the day; 41% report taking a leave of absence; and 37% report going from full-time to part-time to adjust for their care giving responsibilities. Additionally, the caregiver's own health is often at risk. They are more likely to have chronic health conditions and medical debt than non-caregivers.
"We need to provide better support for family caregivers because they are essential to our long-term care system. For example, adequate funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program and the Lifespan Respite Care Act would cost a fraction of the value of unpaid caregivers' contributions and provide an excellent return on investment," said Rother.
Most informal caregivers are women who are employed full or part-time. Nearly one-fifth of all U.S. workers are caregivers (19%), and the productivity losses to U.S. businesses associated with caregiving are estimated to be as high as $33 billion a year.
The study underscores the need for better government and private sector options for long-term care. Informal caregivers help delay or prevent the use of costly nursing home care, which has positive results for Medicaid and Medicare budgets. Currently, Medicaid spends $59 billion per year on nursing home care and Medicare spends almost $22 billion.
The complete study can be accessed at: http://www.aarp.org/research/housing-mobility/caregiving/ib82_caregiving.html
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50 + educators; and our website, www.aarp.org. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.