Family caregivers face big responsibilities, financial tolls

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Much has been written about the divisiveness of today’s politics and the widening chasm between the two major parties and different demographic, or even geographic, groups. But, if there is one issue that has the power to unite us across parties and ideologies, across age and income, whether you live in a city, small town or rural area, it’s the issue of family caregiving.

More than 40 million family caregivers, like me, are providing unpaid care to a loved one . . . helping them bathe and get dressed, preparing and feeding meals, coordinating medical care, managing finances and much more. And, right now, at kitchen tables across America, real families are confronting the same question: how will we care for mom or dad, a spouse, a son or daughter with disabilities, when they cannot c are for themselves?

{mosads}The data tells us that the typical family caregiver is a 49 year-old woman who works full-time and spends 24 hours a week caring for her mother. But, this snapshot masks the broader picture. The job of family caregiver is not limited by age, gender, employment status, race, cultural background, or sexual orientation. In fact, one-quarter of all family caregivers are Millennials, while almost 1 in 10 are age 75 or older. Four in 10 are male, and, 61 percent are employed. 

In some ways, family caregiving is a wonderful gift. We give back to, and spend time with, the ones who gave so much to us. It also gives us an opportunity to step back and put life into perspective.

But, family caregiving can also be a difficult and trying time that puts a tremendous financial strain on families. According to a recent AARP Public Policy Institute report, nearly 8 in 10 family caregivers incur out-of-pocket expenses caring for their loved ones. They pay for home modifications like ramps and grab bars that make it easier for older parents to stay in their homes. They help cover the cost of home aides, assisted living, and nursing home care. They buy medical equipment like wheelchairs, and they invest in assistive technology such as computer voice recognition programs to help loved ones retain their independence.

On average, family caregivers spent about $7,000 on care-related expenses in 2016. That’s about 20 percent of their annual income, and some are paying much more. For example, Hispanic/Latino family caregivers faced average costs of $9,000—representing 44 percent of their income—and African-American caregivers spent $6,600, or 34 percent of their income. Those caring for adults with dementia spent nearly $10,700 while long-distance family caregivers spent $11,900.

Family caregivers do all of this on top of managing their own households, raising their children and taking care of themselves.   Many put their own health and financial security at risk. They cut back on spending, don’t go to the doctor and forgo retirement savings. They adjust their job schedules, often working fewer hours, using paid time off for caregiving responsibilities, and taking unpaid time off when needed. Others end up working even more hours or taking an additional job just so they can cover the bills.

These are eye-opening statistics. But, behind the data are real families who are facing very real challenges, families like Jan and Bob Beard. Jan is 56 years old and cares for her husband, Bob, who is paralyzed on his left side after a stroke two years ago. Every morning, Jan helps Bob do the things he can no longer do by himself . . . bathe, get dressed and use the bathroom. Then, Jan works at her paying job as a college curriculum coordinator. Luckily, this job allows her to work from home. Twice a week, an aide comes to the house to help out, at a cost of $200 / week. That’s $10,400 a year. Jan is using their savings to cover this and other caregiving expenses. She is worried about her and Bob’s future. 

At AARP, supporting family caregivers like Jan is one of our top priorities, and we are particularly focused on helping people pay for caregiving-related expenses. That is why we are supporting the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act, a tax credit for eligible working family caregivers who spend at least $2,000 on care-related expenses. With a maximum tax credit of $3,000, this is an important common sense step to help ease the financial strain on millions of American families.

Family caregiving isn’t a Democratic issue. It’s not a Republican issue. It’s a family issue.

AARP urges Congress to pass the Credit for Caring Act.

Nancy LeaMond is the executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer at AARP. She is a family caregiver.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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