The AARP Public Policy Institute recently released a new report discussing the contributions that family members nationwide make to caring for their elderly family members. Recent news has focused on how local, state, and federal governments will handle the burdens of caring for an aging population. Yet, as this new report points out, the costs bore by family caregivers actually dwarfs that spent by these public bodies. It is a reminder that long-term care planning remains more than just a necessity for seniors but also for their entire family.
The size of the numbers is undeniable. Roughly 42 million family members are acting as caregivers for their senior loved ones at any point in time, with nearly 62 million providing at least some support throughout the year. In economic terms, these caregivers provide over $450 billion in annual, unpaid care. That total is up 20% from two years before ($375 billion). These totals include the contributions of millions of area residents who provide support for aging family members whose New York elder care planning went awry or whose plan was nonexistent. The financial estimates are actually conservative. They do not account for care given by those under the age of 18. They also do not include caregivers who provide assistance outside of basic daily living tasks, like help with bathing, dressing, managing medications, and aid with finances.
It is helpful to put these family-provided long-term elder care costs into context. The $450 billion annual sum is more than the total Medicaid spending, for both basic health and long-term support services. When looking only at Medicaid support for senior care, the costs bore by families is four times larger. Researchers believe that the $75 billion increase in the previous two years was primarily caused by an increase in the total number of caregivers and hours of care provided. In other words, the allotted value of the work ($11.16 per hour) remained constant over that period of time.
The report notes various caregiving trends. Nearly sixty five percent of caregivers are women and more than eight in ten are caring for a relative over 50 years old. The “average” caregiver is a 49 year old woman that works outside the home and spends 20 hours a week providing unpaid care to her mother. Of course, countless other scenarios exist, but in many ways, women dominate the process–both as caregivers and ones in need of care. This is likely the case because women live longer than men on average and cultural pressures still tend to encourage women to act as caregivers more than men.
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