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We Can't Forget the Unpaid Caregivers

Loretta Belfiore, 61, of Altamonte Springs, Fla., was her mother's caregiver in the elder woman's final years; now she takes care of her husband, Tom, 77, who is dying of cancer
Loretta Belfiore, 61, of Altamonte Springs, Fla., was her mother's caregiver in the elder woman's final years; now she takes care of her husband, Tom, 77, who is dying of cancerPhotograph by Hilda M.Perez/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images

Big numbers grab attention. Like $450 billion. That’s the estimated economic value of unpaid work by some 42 million family caregivers in 2009, according to Susan Reinhard, a former community nurse who is now senior vice president for public policy at AARP. To put the sum in context, total Medicare spending in 2009 was $509 billion. Reinhard presented the number at the American Gerontological Society of America annual meeting in San Diego, Nov. 14-18. Some 3,600 researchers from 30 countries gathered to share information and data about aging, with sessions focusing on dementia, Alzheimer’s, nursing homes, risks of falling, and other issues associated with old age. (After two days of these presentations, it’s hard to avoid singing the Rolling Stones lyric “What a drag it is getting old.”)

How about a really big figure: Nearly $3 trillion, or $2,947,636,000,000. That number represents the lost wages, Social Security benefits, and private pensions for men and women ages 50 and over caring for their parents, according to research by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. During a presentation in a dark, cavernous ballroom at the San Diego Convention Center by John N. Migliaccio, director of research for MetLife’s institute, he figured the typical 50-plus caregiver loss averages $303,880 to $324,044 for women and $283,716 for men.