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ANALYSIS: Low PCA Wages Across Nation Decline Further in Third of States

November 1, 2012

The annual PHI analysis of wage trends for personal care aides (PCAs) — the nation’s fastest-growing occupation — once again shows low and stagnant wages for these critical workers who provide supports and services to elders and individuals with disabilities.

In 2011, the national median wage for PCAs ($9.49) increased by less than one percent from the previous year. In 16 states, wages actually declined. By contrast, the average wage for all jobs in the economy increased from $16.27 to $16.57 over that time period.

Of all states, 33 reported average hourly wages for PCAs that fell below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, according to the analysis reported in the most recent PHI State Chart Book on Wages for Personal Care Aides (pdf).

Wages below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($10.47/hour) are low enough to qualify workers for many state and federal public assistance programs.

“Yet again, two-thirds of states report very low wage levels for personal care workers,” said Dorie Seavey, PHI director of policy research. “Even more disturbing, wages for PCAs in very few states have actually kept up with inflation over the last decade.

“The economic security of hundreds of thousands of caregivers who make it possible for others to live independently is at stake,” Seavey continued. “It will be very difficult for our country to meet the rapidly growing demand for personal assistance workers without improving these wages.”

Data Spans 10 Years

The chart book tracks PCA wages in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and presents data from 2001 to 2011. Findings reported in the PHI Chart Book include:

  • In 2011, nominal median wages within the continental U.S. ranged from $8.22 in West Virginia to $12.24 in North Dakota.
  • Over the 10-year period, 41 states showed a decline in real median wages (adjusted for inflation) for PCAs. Ten states saw real wages fall by 10 percent or more. Hawaii and Rhode Island saw real wages fall by more than 20 percent.

State of the Nation’s PCA Workforce

Home care workers, including personal care aides, have been excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act since 1974, under what is known as the “companionship exemption.” In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to reduce the scope of this exemption.

“It is unlikely that narrowing the exemption will result in an instantaneous improvement in PCA wages,” Seavey said, “but evidence has shown wages for low-wage workers are lifted by setting a minimum wage. Narrowing the exemption will also end the second-class status of these jobs.”

Other recent efforts to improve the nature of these jobs have centered around training. While there are no federal guidelines or standards for PCA training, several states have been engaged in improving training standards through the federally funded Personal and Home Care Aide State Training (PHCAST) demonstration grants.

— By Abby Marquand, PHI Policy Research Associate

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