Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Invisible Economy

Think of the families you know where an individual needs care due to a medical condition such as Alzheimer's or cancer or major disability such as Lyn's intellectual disability.  Regardless of the needs or ages of the individuals, these families share a common need.  They need a one or more care givers.

Caregivers are needed to administer medication and follow a medical plan.  They are needed to prepare food and may even need to feed the person for whom they provide care.  They may help bathe and groom the person.  They may help with toiling concerns.  They may even have to help transfer the person from one location to another such as from the bed to a chair or from a chair to the toilet or from the house to a car.

How much would you pay to have someone provide that assistance?  The average salary appears to be about $20,000.  In my area, a care giver makes about $29,000 a year according to glassdoor.  Hourly ranges on that link range from $8 to $13.  That doesn't seem like a lot me be when I think of the duties they perform.  But what if you can't afford that?

There are some social programs which help.  For example, Lyn has access to New Mexico's Disability Waiver program which provides her the services she receives.  Many states have elder care programs.  Even then, families may struggle and have to rely upon "informal caregivers."

Informal caregivers are those friends and family members who provide the care for individuals who need it.  They are mostly volunteers and not paid or trained professionals.  They may receive some benefits for the work they do by being granted access to or eventual ownership of assets but most do not.  Mom, for example, inherited the house after caring for my Grandma for 10 years.

How prevalent is the informal caregiver role?  In 2014, New Mexico reported 184,500 informal caregivers who accounted for 198 million hours of care.  While some may only provide a few hours of care a week, others are providing full-time, round the clock, 24/7 care.  The simple math reveals that 184,500 caregivers are putting in over 1,000 hours of care each and this equates to 40 hours of work for 26 weeks.  In Virginia in 2014, there were 740,400 informal caregivers who provided 793 million hours of care.  The average of 40 hours of work for 26 weeks is the same.  In 2008, the CDC reported there were more than 34 million caregivers nationally.  Their statistic only counts those providing care to someone aged 18 and older.  It overlooks those who provide care for minors who are seriously ill or disabled.  If we assign the average salary of $20,000 to all of these care givers and if we use the average of 50% work, then we're looking at $3,400,000,000,000 worth of unrecognized services provided which is about the GDP of Germany.  (Caveat: my math may be off but I think you get the point.)

We're asking all of these millions of informal caregivers to do what they do with little support or training.


Additional Information:
Family Caregiver Alliance

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