Caregiving can take not only a physical and emotional toll, it can have a financial one as well. A new study by AARP shows just how much housing and medical expenses can add up — and disproportionately hurt those who can least afford it.
In the United States, about 48 million individuals provide unpaid care to an adult family member or friend. Nearly eight in 10 caregivers report having routine out-of-pocket expenses related to looking after their loved ones. The typical annual total is significant: $7,242. On average, family caregivers are spending 26% of their income on caregiving activities, according to results of the national study of nearly 2,400 caregivers in the spring of 2021.
The strain is even greater on Latinos and African-Americans, and on younger caregivers, who have had less time to work and build up resources. Meanwhile, women, on average, spend more hours a week caregiving and have lower incomes. The cost of caring for female recipients is higher.
About half of caregivers say they used their own money for household-related expenses. Thirty percent covered rent or mortgage payments for their loved ones, while 21% financed home modifications. Medical costs (paying for health care, therapists, in-home care, or medical equipment) accounted for 17% of caregiver spending. Only 5% of caregivers reported having no expenses in the past year with their loved one.
When a family member is assisting more than 10 hours a week or helping with activities of daily living, they often shell out more money than the average caregiver.
Many employed caregivers face stress juggling both their jobs and caregiving. In addition to expenses, in fact, caregiving can cut into caregivers’ income. About one-third of respondents report two or more work-related strains, such as having to change their schedule or take leave, which leads to an average annual outlay of $10,525.
About half of caregivers say they have experienced financial setbacks. This may mean they have had to curtail their spending, dip into personal savings, or cut back on retirement contributions. The recent COVID-19 pandemic magnified sacrifices for caregivers, with 42% of respondents spending more time and money on caregiving.
The AARP study highlights the need for effective public policy to provide financial support for families. One such piece of legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress, the Credit for Caring Act, would provide a tax credit of up to $5,000 to eligible working caregivers.
Data was gathered March 15 through April 25, 2021 from a survey and diaries among a sample of 2,380 family caregivers balanced for representation by race. Respondents qualified if they helped an adult relative or friend with unpaid care such as managing medications, finances, household chores, transportation, or activities of daily living. Caregivers completed a retrospective survey of their expenses incurred and then participated in a diary study to track their spending on caregiving costs for a week. The information was used to produce an annualized figure.
Skufca, Laura, and Chuck Rainville. Caregiving Out-of-Pocket Costs Study 2021. Washington, DC: AARP Research, June 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00473.001
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