Putting a price on priceless: Family caregiving costs

caregiverHours of care provided: 37 billion. Estimated worth of care given: $470 billion. Caring for a sick and/or disabled loved one: Priceless? In an alternate universe – which we might call the ‘Caregiverse’ – family caregiving would be one of the leading industries in the world, whose economic value is just a little under that of Walmart yearly sales and surpasses the annual sales of Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Microsoft put together. Caregivers would be an elite group to the point that Ethan Hawke would borrow Jude Law’s DNA just so he could fulfill his dream of becoming one.

Economic value in billions of dollars



Family caregiving


Total Medicaid


Out-of-pocket healthcare spending


Total Medicaid LTSS



Sadly, the AARP study that found that 40 million American family caregivers provided $470 billion worth of care in 2013 refers to unpaid caregivers. So there really is no money in it, but what about fame and glory? Close, but no cigar. “Family caregiving today is much more complex, stressful, and costly for caregivers than ever before,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said in a statement. “This new report shows some of the progress that’s been made to help caregivers, but we need to do much more in public policy, in the workplace, and in the health care system.” Senior VP and director of AARP's Public Policy Institute Susan Reinhard added that “We expect family caregivers to do things that make nursing students tremble.” That includes care for wounds, medication management, injection administration, medical equipment operation, meal preparation, bill-paying, driving to doctor’s appointments, and more.

  • Caregivers spend an average of 18 hours a week caring for a family member.
  • 60% of family caregivers who care for an adult are employed full or part time.
  • 22% of caregivers provide 21+ hours of care a week while working a job.
  • 68% of family caregivers report using their own money to help provide care.
  • 39% feel financially strained.
  • 55% say they feel overwhelmed by the amount of care needed by a family member.
  • 1 out of every 4 workers aged 25+ are caregivers.
  • 72% of workers aged 40+ say that allowing work flexibility for caregiving would improve work-life balance.

The $470 billion estimate is an increase from $450 billion in 2009. What has been done in the interim? “Over the past four years since the last report came out, we’ve seen a number of new policies at the federal and state level that are improving awareness about family caregivers’ needs,” Reinhard said. “We need multiple approaches to better help caregiving families, including such things as tax credits, improved workplace flexibility, respite care, home care services, and better training of family caregivers. Solutions to support family caregivers will need to come from both the private and public sectors.”

Important terms

  • Family caregiver

Any relative, partner, friend, or neighbor who has a meaningful personal relationship with, and who provides a broad range of assistance for, an older person or an adult with a chronic, disabling, or serious condition.

  • Caregiving

Providing a wide variety of services to an older person or an adult with a chronic, disabling, or serious condition, including personal care and daily activities, medical or nursing tasks, hiring and supervising direct care workers, acting as an advocate for the care receiver during doctor’s visits or hospital stays, communicating with health and social workers, and implementing care plans.

  • Intensive caregiving

21 or more hours of care a week.

  • LTSS

Long-term services and support; a wide array of daily help needed by people with longer-term illnesses, disabilities, frailty, or other extended health conditions, including help with housekeeping, transportation, paying bills, meals, personal care, care provided in the home by a nurse or other paid health professional, adult day services, and other ongoing social and healthcare services outside the home.


  • Caregiver assessment

The systematic compiling of information on a caregiving situation to detect problems, strengths, needs, and resources.

  • Paid sick days

Usually refers to a limited number of paid days off per year to allow workers to stay home sick with short-term illnesses, but it also means limited paid days off to care for a sick family member, or to accompany a relative to a doctor’s appointment.

  • Family leave

A longer period of time off to care for a newborn or a sick family member.

  • Family responsibilities discrimination

Discrimination against workers who care for children, older adults, or sick/disabled relatives.


Related Read:

- Caregiving on a Budget: Discount Medical Tips for Caregivers