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U.S. Family Caregiving Valued at $450 Billion

  • Published: 2011-07-18 : Author: AARP
  • Synopsis: A new report by AARP Public Policy Institute found the economic value of unpaid care reached an estimated $450 billion.

AARP Report Values Family Caregiving at $450 Billion; Figure Exceeds Wal-Mart's Total Annual Sales - An estimated 61.6 million Americans provided care during 2009.

In 2009, approximately one in four adults in America experienced the realities of caring for an adult family member, partner or friend who suffered with chronic conditions or disabilities.

A new report released today by AARP's Public Policy Institute found the economic value of this unpaid care reached an estimated $450 billion in 2009 - more than the total 2009 sales of Wal-Mart, America's largest company, and more than the combined sales that year of the three largest publicly held auto companies (Toyota, Ford, Daimler). The $450 billion is a 21 percent increase over the $375 billion that the study found in 2007.

The report, "Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving, 2011 Update," finds that the "average" caregiver is a 49-year old woman who works outside of the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother over the course of nearly five years. Almost two-thirds of family caregivers are women. More than eight in 10 are caring for a relative or friend age 50 or older. The nearly 62 million caregivers in the U.S. just about equal the combined population of California and Texas, the two largest and most populous of the lower 48 states.

"Most caregivers don't think of what they're doing as work," said Susan Reinhard, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at AARP. "They think of it as what families do for each other. They don't think of themselves as caregivers."

The report also found that the care provided continues to increase in complexity. The impact of shorter hospital stays and advances in home-based medical technologies plays out in the health tasks that family caregivers often carry out, including bandaging and wound care, tube feedings, managing catheters, giving injections or operating medical equipment.

"Some of the things that family caregivers do would make a first-year nursing student shudder," said Reinhard. "But that's what it takes to provide care for people with chronic and sometimes acute medical conditions."

This new level of care, which the report calls the "new normal," also takes an increasing toll on the caregiver. The report found that those who take on this unpaid role to help loved ones remain in their own homes and communities risk stress, depression, physical health problems, social isolation, competing demands and financial hardship and thus, are vulnerable themselves.

In summary, the report says, "Family caregivers are an essential part of the workforce to maintain the health care and LTSS (long-term services and supports) systems for the growing number of people with complex chronic care needs. Family caregiving has been shown to help delay or prevent the use of nursing home care. There is also growing recognition of the value of family members to the delivery of health care, and the ways in which families influence health care decisions, treatments and outcomes."

"We know most people want to remain in their own homes and communities as they get older. Family caregiving is key to making that possible," said Reinhard.

The report includes several recommendations to assist caregivers, including expanding funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP); providing adequate funding for respite programs, including the Lifespan Respite Care Act; promoting new models of care that are person - and family-centered and engage the caregiver as a partner and member of the care team and also integrate the different elements of care - such as primary health care and long-term services and supports; and, promoting the expansion of consumer-directed models in publicly-funded home- and community-based services programs that permit payment of family caregivers.

The full report, "Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving, 2011 Update," is available at

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership 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, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.1 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website, 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.

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