Barbara's Blog

Valuing the Invaluable

Whether you give care to a friend or family member, or receive care from a friend or family member, you know that such care is so valuable, it is truly invaluable.  The world is just beginning to catch up with that understanding. 

The AARP Public Policy Institute recently completed an update to the Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving report.

Here are the facts:

  • In 2009, about 42.1 million family caregivers in the United States provided care to an adult with limitations in daily activities at any given point in time, and about 61.6 million provided care at some time during the year.
  • In 2009, the “average” US caregiver was a 49 year-old woman who worked outside the home and spent nearly 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother for nearly 5 years.
  • The estimated economic value of their unpaid contributions was approximately $450 billion, an increase from 2007 by $75 billion. (Based on an average home health worker wage of $11.16/hour).


Here are some benchmarks to help you wrap your head around $450 billion:

  • $450 billion is more than both State and Federal Medicaid spending in 2009 for both healthcare and long-term care ($361 billion)
  • $450 billion is nearly 4 times the total Medicaid long term care spending ($119)
  • $450 billion is as much as the total sales of the world’s largest companies (Wal-Mart $408 billion, and the three largest held publicly held auto companies combined (Toyota, Ford, Daimler—total $439 billion)
  • $450 billion is nearly the total Medicare program ($509 billion)
  • $450 billion is as much as the gross domestic product of Belgium, the 20th largest economy in the world ($471 billion 2009)


In the past, caregiving for loved ones in the home was common.  So why is caregiving now so significant?  The simple is answer is that people live much longer now, they recover from acute illness but live a long time with chronic illnesses.  Chronic care maintenance is complicated.  Caregivers juggle multiple providers, appointments, services and supports, hiring and directing care workers, providing transportation to providers, manage insurances and bills, administer multiple medications, and provide actual hands on care. Typically, caregivers are not trained or prepared to deal with any one of these task, let alone all of them.

Preparation is key.  If you have parents, you likely will provide some, if not all of these activities and more for your parents.  Take the time to educate yourself on the resources that exist both nationally, and locally.  My Resources page is a good place to start this process.  Caregiving is never easy, but with knowledge, it can certainly be less difficult.

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