The rewards of caring for a loved one who needs our help can be substantial. It’s an opportunity to pay something back, to offer a return on the loving investment someone once made in us. It’s a chance to help preserve a quality life for an individual who has a tough time completing life’s daily tasks. It’s the joy of knowing that we are easing someone’s way, lifting burdens and making sure they are not alone.
Family caregivers lovingly offer their help free of charge, contributing their time, their energy and often their own well-being. What they do is of incalculable emotional value and of enormous social worth.
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In the past, AARP has tallied what society would be paying for the labor that family caregivers so willingly donate: In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers provided 37 billion hours of care worth an estimated $470 billion to their parents, spouses, partners and other adult loved ones.
The total estimated economic value of uncompensated care provided by family caregivers in 2013 surpassed total Medicaid spending ($449 billion) and nearly equaled the annual sales ($469 billion) of the four largest U.S. tech companies combined (Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft).
What we haven’t included in the calculations before is the significant amount of money family caregivers often spend out of their own pockets as part of their contribution. A new AARP study, “Family Caregiving and Out-of-Pocket Costs: 2016 Report,” estimates that family caregivers spend an average of $6,954 on out-of-pocket costs related to caregiving, nearly 20 percent of their annual income.
Out-of-pocket spending is even higher among Hispanic/Latino caregivers ($9,022 annually, representing 44 percent of their income). African American caregivers report costs similar to white caregivers, but that amounts to a much greater percentage of income — 34 percent vs. 14 percent.
To cover the extra expense, many family caregivers have to pare back their own spending. They cut back on saving for retirement, leisure spending, eating out and vacations, and many have dipped into personal or retirement savings. See the full report at www.aarp.org/caregivercosts.
Clearly, family caregivers could use a break. The bipartisan Credit for Caring Act would help give them some of the financial breathing room they need, with a federal tax credit of up to $3,000 for those who are eligible. AARP and other national organizations are supporting this bill.
Each of us has the opportunity to give caregivers other measures of relief — by making a meal, doing the laundry, running an errand, raking leaves … any warm, friendly assistance that shortens their endless to-do lists.
They deserve — and appreciate — everything we can give them.