An estimated 38 million family members provided approximately $600 billion in unpaid caregiving in 2021. That’s according to a recent report from the AARP.

The monetary figure is up from an estimated $540 billion in 2019.

“Family caregivers are the backbone of long-term care in this country,” Susan Reinhard, senior vice president of AARP Public Policy Institute and a lead author of the report, said in a statement. “The care they provide is invaluable to those receiving it. But this is not just a family issue: it impacts communities, employers, and our health and long-term care systems. We must treat family caregivers as the valuable resource that they are by providing them the support they need to care for loved ones while also caring for themselves.” 

These family caregivers provide an average of 18 hours of care per week for a total of 36 billion hours of care, at an average value of $16.59 per hour, according to the report. The increase is part of a 25-year trend of increasing economic value. According to the report, the continued trend underscored previous studies that have noted that the value of family caregivers “vastly exceeds the value of paid home care.”

As McKnight’s previously reported, informal caregivers provide two extra “shifts” of care per resident weekly in assisted living communities, equating to 65 hours per month per resident, according to the authors of a study recently published in Health Affairs.

Moving forward, data suggest that the pool of family members available to provide care will decrease. By the year 2034, adults aged 65 or more years will outnumber children aged fewer than 18.

Sixty-one percent of family caregivers work either full or part-time, according to the AARP. Taking care of aging parents or a spouse, in addition to reduced income if it’s necessary to take a step back from the workforce for a time, can mean reduced career opportunities and savings, as well as subsequently lower Social Security and retirement benefits.

The AARP is pushing this year to turn the National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers into action that provides meaningful, tangible outcomes and support for family caregivers. The national strategy, delivered to Congress last September, stemmed from the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, which is championed by AARP. The strategy highlights almost 350 actions that the federal government will take and more than 150 actions that can be adopted by stakeholders and other levels of government to give family caregivers the help they need.

“While meaningful changes are underway at the federal and state levels to support the millions of caregivers in the US, there is more work to be done,” Reinhard said. “AARP is continuing to push for policy changes that will give family caregivers the financial, emotional and social support they need to care for family and friends.”