If you or someone you know is caring for a sick or elderly loved one, you are not alone.
In Connecticut, there are 420,000 caregivers providing unpaid care, according to a new study from AARP Public Policy Institute called Valuing the Invaluable 2023.
Those caregivers put in 390 million care hours throughout 2021, the study states. With a value per hour of $18.43, that is $7.2 billion worth of care throughout the year. It is a $1.27 billion increase in unpaid contributions since the last report was released in 2019.
“Family caregivers are literally holding up the entire healthcare system. They are the backbone of the health care system in America,” Nora Duncan, AARP Connecticut State Director, said. “If a percent even of those caregivers said ‘I can't do this,’ and it was for an elderly population, that would probably turn over to the state to pick up the tab for that, in the form of nursing homes, in the form of Medicaid. We cannot afford that.”
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Duncan says that is why there needs to be policy to financially support these caregivers.
According to the study, 61 percent of family caregivers work full or part time, and face financial risks like lost income, limited career advancement opportunities, and lower savings and retirement benefits.
Workforce shortages, exacerbated by the pandemic, mean more work is put on family caregivers.
On top of that, 30 percent of family caregivers are in the “sandwich generation,” strained by caring for elderly family members and also children, the study states.
“Some of the easiest things that we could do, and that we're advocating for across the country, is tax credits for family caregivers, because the financial burden can be extreme,” Duncan said. “For minority families, the financial burden is even more so as a percentage of their income. It takes away from other priorities from the family.”
On the state level, AARP advocates for financial relief like tax credits and other reimbursement programs, as well as flexible workplace policies.
However Duncan wants people in Connecticut to know that caregivers have options. The Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees with job-protected leave while the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority ensures income replacement.
“Now are you going to get your exact actual salary? Probably not, but for up to 12 weeks a year, right now you can get up to $780 a week, to take time to care for yourself, to care for a loved one,” Duncan said.
Duncan says the pandemic has driven a growing need for this policy, as more people removed loved ones from nursing homes, and are now taking on those care responsibilities at home.
“That makes things better for you, for your family, and for the employer, because the employer doesn't want people to quit because they have to care for a loved one,” Duncan said. “Now in Connecticut, we're so lucky that we don't have to choose between our paycheck and our loved ones.”
Nationwide, 38 million family caregivers provide an average of 18 hours of care per week, according to the AARP report. That translates into $600 billion worth of care, 2021 data up from $470 billion in 2017.