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The Worth of Family Caregivers

Unpaid care at home is still undervalued, an AARP study finds


spinner image clasped hands of elder and caregiver superimposed with silhouettes of family and detail from a dollar bill
ILLUSTRATION BY STEPHANIE DALTON COWAN

May is Older Americans Month. And this year’s theme, Aging Unbound, recognizes that we all benefit when older adults remain engaged, independent and included. That freedom and potential are made possible in large part by the support and contributions of unpaid family caregivers.

spinner image AARP CEO JoAnn Jenkins, illustration
Illustration by Michael Hoeweler

AARP’s recently updated “Valuing the Invaluable” report estimates that family caregivers provided 36 billion hours of unpaid care worth $600 billion in 2021. In addition, the average caregiver pays more than $7,200 annually in out-of-pocket costs for transportation and other needs.

This demonstrates the value of family caregivers, which is only going to increase. By 2034, adults 65 and older will outnumber children under 18, and the share of potential caregivers is projected to keep shrinking compared with those likely to need long-term care. Family caregivers will continue to face the dual demands of employment and caring for an older adult.

This doesn’t just affect families. It also has an impact on communities, employers and long-term care systems.

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Consider these statistics:

  • Roughly 30 percent of family caregivers of older Americans live in a household that includes children or grandchildren. They are increasingly likely to be working while performing their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Sixty-one percent of family caregivers of adults work either full- or part-time. They face financial risks such as lost income and reduced career opportunities that may mean a future built on lower savings and reduced Social Security benefits.
  • Direct-care workforce shortages can lead to more hours of care and higher-intensity care by family caregivers. Retaining workers in a field with high turnover and providing sufficient pay and training are challenging.

As our nation becomes more diverse, we must address the caregiving experiences and needs of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian and LGBTQ+ ­family caregivers.

Thanks to strong advocacy work by AARP and others, we have made significant progress in recent years at the federal and state levels to increase support for family caregivers. But the demand continues to grow, and much more needs to be done.

AARP strongly supports the comprehensive National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers that emerged from talks between advocacy groups and the Department of Health and Human Services in September. 

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Congress is expected to pass parts of that strategy into law this year, and AARP urges lawmakers to help family caregivers with financial and emotional challenges. This includes providing better access to ­respite care, along with paid leave and family caregiver tax credits and reimbursement programs.

At the state level, a total of 45 states and territories have CARE Act laws in place that support family caregivers when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home. We’re working with states to explore ways to offset the financial costs of caring for a family member, including caregiver tax credits or other reimbursement programs. And we’re advocating for paid family leave and paid sick leave for employees.

As we observe Older Americans Month this year, let’s remember that we must treat family caregivers as the valuable resource they are by providing them with the financial and emotional support they need to care for loved ones while caring for themselves.

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