One quarter of Americans who work as unpaid caregivers for children or elders have a mere $1,000 or less in savings, according to a new retirement survey from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Greenwald Research. That same low savings rate is true for only 15% of other adults surveyed.

From January 5 to February 2, 2023, some 2,537 adults age 25 or older answered a series of online questions about their work and retirement life. Just over half of them, or 1,320, were still working, and 1,217 were retired. Roughly 21% of respondents, or 944 people, were working as caregivers or had retired from doing that kind of labor.

The lack of savings among this unpaid population underscores what is commonly referred to as the “caregiver crisis.” It’s estimated that some 53 million American adults, or roughly one in five, are engaged in this sort of domestic work. Altogether, their labor is estimated by AARP to be worth at least $600 billion.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that as many as 41% of past and present caregivers in the survey said they did not have enough savings to handle an emergency, while only 32% of non-caregiver respondents felt that way. Asked about their debt levels, 21% of caregivers said debts were a “major problem,” whereas only 15% of non-caregivers said so. In fact, only 36% of caregivers said debt was “not a problem” at all, versus 48% of non-caregivers.

Not all caregivers are impoverished, however. Fully 30% of them in the study reported having $250,000 or more in savings. On the other hand, a much higher number of non-caregivers, 42% surveyed, made the same claim.

What may be most unexpected, though, is that in addition to helping their loved ones with essential daily-living tasks, 55% of working caregivers and 37% of retired ones said they also had provided some financial support to their care recipients. Among them, 37% of retired caregivers and 35% of working caregivers reported that they had given their caregiving recipients anywhere from $5,000 to $14,999 in the preceding 12 months.

“More than half of working caregivers provide financial support to their care recipient, and these results would suggest that it’s often to the detriment of their own financial health,” said Lisa Greenwald, CEO of Greenwald Research, in a statement.

Caregivers were also less likely to say that their health status was “excellent or very good,” with 49% of them giving this answer versus 55% of non-caregivers. At the same time, 16% of caregivers reported that their health was “fair or poor,” while only 13% of non-caregivers did.

“What we found is that caregiver retirees are more likely than non-caregivers to say that their overall lifestyle in retirement is worse than they expected it to be before they retired,” said Craig Copeland, director of wealth benefits research at EBRI, in the same press release.

Specifically, when asked how their overall lifestyle in retirement compares to how they expected it would be, 31% of caregiving retirees said it’s worse than anticipated. Only 20% of non-caregiving retirees felt that way.

There were also gender and race disparities. Women represented 61% of caregivers surveyed but only 49% of non-caregiver respondents. As for ethnicity, 59% of caregivers said they are white and 20% identified as Hispanic. Among non-caregiver respondents, fully 65% were white and just 15% Hispanic.