07/18/2011 02:55 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2011

Caregivers Provide $450 Billion In Annual Unpaid Labor, Study Shows

Family caregivers performed about $450 billion worth of unpaid labor in the U.S. in 2009, a new study from the AARP has found, according to NPR.

The combined economic value of adults helping other adults with the activities of daily living -- “such as bathing or dressing,” the AARP notes, or “managing medications or finances” -- was about $450 billion. There were about 42.1 million such caregivers active in 2009, meaning that the per-person cost was about $10,688 a year in lost productivity.

In 2007, a similar AARP study found that the value of caregiver labor was about $375 billion. The report notes that a number of factors have caused that figure to rise: by 2009, there were 23 percent more caregivers, and the average number of hours they worked had risen by 9 percent. Tthe per-hour value of their labor had also risen from $10.10 to $11.16.

The AARP report is only one of a number of studies in recent years that examine the economic pressures faced by those who provide unpaid care for a friend or relative.

In 2007, a study by the health care coordination program Evercare found that people caring for a friend or relative over the age of 50 had an average out-of-pocket expense of $5,531 every year -- more than 10 percent of the median income of that group.

And in June of this year, a study from the insurance company MetLife found that caregivers over the age of 50 who leave the workforce early lose an average of $303,880 in combined wages, pensions, and Social Security benefits, United Press International reported.

The AARP study notes that economic costs run both ways. While caregivers pay out-of-pocket costs, and 33 percent have been forced to work longer hours or take on another job, 2004 estimates show that U.S. businesses lose as much as $33.6 billion each year in productivity from caregiving employees, in part due to absenteeism and the reduction from full-time hours to part-time.

The pressure for unpaid caregivers is only likely to get worse, as a number of states are cutting health services that make it possible for nurses to visit seniors at home, or for seniors to spend the day under supervision at an adult-care program, the Associated Press recently reported.

The AARP document contains a number of policy recommendations, including caregiver support programs in the workplace and expansions to the Family and Medical Leave Act and the National Caregiver Family Support Program. It also urges financial assistance for family caregivers, and improved Social Security benefits for caregivers whose responsibilities cause them to leave the workforce early.

The report notes that these and other changes could be made “at small fractions of the value of unpaid caregivers’ contributions.”