American Workers Put in Billions of Hours a Month, for Free

Unpaid caregiving plays a pivotal support role in U.S. economy, researchers say.

Nearly one-third of Americans are providing unpaid care to others.

That’s according to new research by social scientists Emilio Zagheni and Denys Dukhovnov, which was recently published in the Population and Development Review.

The study found that adults in the United States provided about 1.2 billion hours of unpaid caregiving work each week. To put that into perspective, that unpaid work is equivalent to that done by 30.5 million full-time employees.

Zagheni, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Washington, told Ozy that informal caregiving is having a significant impact on the economy. “Zagheni estimates that in 2012, unpaid care accounted for about 5 percent of America’s Gross Domestic Product, approximately $691 billion,” Ozy said.

Although many people have heard of the “sandwich generation,” or those Americans who are simultaneously caring for their own children and their older parents, they actually make up just 3 percent of informal caregivers. Spouses make up about 20 percent, and the rest of is comprised of adult children without small kids at home who are taking care of their aging parents.

“As it turns out, America is in a ‘golden age’ of caregiving, says Zagheni, referring to the fact that there’s a smaller-than-ever gap between caregivers and those needing care,” Ozy said.

Many studies have found that being a caregiver for a family member can be stressful and even take a toll on the caregiver’s health. It can also be expensive. Check out “Family Caregivers Pay a High Price for Taking Care of Loved Ones.”

Informal caregiving has been called the “backbone of America’s long-term care system.”

Zagheni estimated that another 1.3 million caregivers could be needed by 2050, with the value of unpaid care hitting $839 billion.

Although that number seems staggering, Zagheni and Dukhovnov write that “considering that it would be spread over several decades, the size of the adjustment appears to be quite manageable for the United States.”

Are you an informal caregiver? Who do you care for? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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