Family caregiving takes its toll—not just on families, but on the economy.
In 2013, an estimated 40 million family caregivers provided $470 billion in unpaid care, according to a new study from AARP. That's up from $450 billion in 2009.
To put the figure in perspective, the report notes, $470 billion is nearly as much as Walmart sales for that year and surpasses annual spending of both Medicaid and out-of-pocket health care costs. Yet, "it's a conservative estimate," said Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and director of AARP's Public Policy Institute. The figure is based on caregivers providing an average 18 hours of care weekly, valued at an average hourly rate of $12.51 (calculated using data on median home health aide wages).
Part of the increased value of unpaid care stems from family members undertaking more complicated tasks, particularly medical care, said Reinhard, who is also a registered nurse. "We expect family caregivers to do things that make nursing students tremble," she said—like give injections, care for wounds or operate medical equipment such as ventilators. A 2013 AARP survey found that 46 percent of caregivers were performing such complex tasks.