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Assisted Living Aide Featured in New York Times Article on Low-Wage Workers

March 18, 2014

A New York Times article published on March 16 spotlights the working poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and explains how the demographics have changed for low-wage workers who are trapped in poverty.

In “Low-Wage Workers Are Finding Poverty Harder to Escape,” Steven Greenhouse profiles several low-income workers, including a nurse aide of 15 years, Erika McCurdy, a mother of two who is employed at an assistant living facility.

McCurdy’s finances took a turn for the worse when she lost a hospital job and her wages dropped from $13.75 to $9 per hour at the assisted living facility, Greenhouse writes.

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert, an HBO documentary on working women who live in poverty, also features a direct-care worker. Read the PHI commentaries about Gilbert, a nursing home aide, in The Tennessean and on MomsRising.org.

McCurdy relies on help from charity to pay her utility bills and — like half of the direct-care workforce — counts on government programs such as food stamps, the earned-income tax credit, and Medicaid to make ends meet.

The face of poverty in Chattanooga is reported to be that of “women, especially women of color.” These are the same demographics as the direct-care workforce: 90 percent women and more than half of color.

McCurdy cannot count on steady, full-time hours and has to settle for part-time assignments, as is typical of low-wage workers, Greenhouse reports. Part-time work is also common for direct-care workers, a PHI analysis found. In 2011, 47 percent worked less than full-time, year-round; of personal care aides, 59 percent work part-time.

To lift her family out of poverty, McCurdy tried to get a job at a car factory but lacked the necessary math skills. Instead, she will use her caregiving skills at a hospital where she was offered a job for $10.64 per hour, Greenfield reports.

— by Deane Beebe

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