Our recent Light Source Poll figures show a sobering trend for our health system. Informal care: that care many of us provide, unpaid, to family and friends, has been around since the dawn of time. Only recently (big history terms) have we relied on large, paid systems to provide care to folks in need of care. The role of informal care persists, but given the stretching of life expectancy, there has not been a time in recorded history where the need might be as great. Further, fertility rates (number of births per woman) are trended lower and are at or below replacement levels (2 kids) in most large “Western” countries.
Light Source (www.lightsourcepoll.com) is showing that 23% of those 18 and older provide some amount of informal care. This is trending up from several waves where the number was 21%
The costs of this informal care are massive in terms of hours; on average, 22 hours per week for these caregivers. That is unpaid time. I have written extensively on the reasons for these behaviors, but I’ll focus on the opportunity costs and policy implications for informal care in this post.
Let’s do some math!
Thanks our census… we can estimate the number of persons 18 and older in the U.S. at232,458,000, as of 2009.
Of these, we estimate 23% are informal caregivers. That is 69,737,000 persons are currently providing unpaid care.
We know, that on average, these folks spend 22 hours per week providing this care. That’s 1,534,222,000 hours per week, unpaid care.
Can we estimate the value of these hours at, in monetary terms? Should we? Even at $10 an hour, we can safely say that an equivalent of $10.5B per week is spent providing care, none of which is paid for. More than half a trillion dollars per year.
These are staggering figures. To all of those engaged in these care efforts. Thank you. To those who are not yet, you will be at some point, so thanks in advance. To learn more about the specific kinds of care being provided, check out the latest LightSource Poll release.
The point of this post has two purposes:
1. Build awareness of the massive unpaid workforce who takes care of many of us.
2. To sound the initial warning bell for folks who are unaware. There is a thing called the baby boomer generation. It leads us to what we have called the “Aging of America.” For some time now, policy folks and other have said, “wait til the baby boomer hits retirement…” Guess what, it is happening, and care giving resources (unpaid AND paid) have never been as stretched as much as what we can expect in the near future. Implications for the rate of informal care giving are just one proxy for the impact of the aging society. Health policy makers in both the government and private sectors will face tough decisions when it comes to resource allocation.
Please send others a link to this post. Whether health care is your business focus or not, this trend will effect you, professionally or personally.