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In Brief: Valuing the Invaluable: A New Look at the Economic Value of Family Caregiving

2008 Update Report

Unpaid caregivers' contributions are not only the foundation of the nation's long-term care system but an important component of the U.S. economy, with an estimated economic value of about $350 billion in 2006.

  • The figure of $350 billion is based on an estimated 34 million caregivers age 18 or older who provide an average of 21 hours of care per week to adults with limitations in daily activities.1 This estimate was derived from an analysis of recent, nationally representative survey data by the AARP Public Policy Institute.2
  • This estimate includes only adults currently providing care or providing care within the last month. These adults include family members, friends, and neighbors. The total number of adults providing care within a full year is significantly higher, and was most recently estimated at 44 million in 2003.

Economic Comparisons

For the purpose of comparison, $350 billion dollars is:

  • As much as the total spending for the Medicare program ($342 billion in 2005).
  • More than total spending for Medicaid, including both federal and state contributions and both medical and long-term care ($300 billion in 2005).
  • As much as total sales of the world's largest companies, including Wal-Mart Stores ($349 billion in 2006) and Exxon Mobil ($335 billion).
  • More than $1,000 for every person in the United States (301 million people in March 2007).
  • More than the amount of the U.S. budget deficit ($248 billion in FY 2006).

Facts About Caregiving

  • The “typical” caregiver in the U.S. is a 46 year old female who works outside of home and spends more than 20 hours per week providing unpaid care. Caregivers often experience serious economic losses due to changes in work patterns, including lost wages, loss of health insurance and other job benefits, and lower retirement savings and Social Security benefits.
  • Almost one fifth of workers (19%) are informal caregivers. Productivity losses to U.S. businesses related to informal caregiving are estimated to be as high as $33.6 billion per year, more than half the value of all productivity losses due to common pain conditions, such as arthritis, headache, and back conditions.
  • Caregivers who estimated expenses said they spend an average of $2,400 per year out-of-pocket to help care recipients. Caregivers with the greatest levels of burden report spending much more ($3,888 per year).
  • Caregivers' own health may be placed at risk. They are more likely to have chronic health conditions and medical bill problems or medical debt than noncaregivers.
  • Family caregiving helps delay or prevent the use of nursing home care, with important implications for Medicaid budgets. In addition, caregiving by adult children reduces the likelihood that beneficiaries will have Medicare expenditures for skilled nursing home and home health care.

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