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CNN Money Spotlights Poor Quality of Home Care Jobs

March 14, 2013

Two CNN Money articles on the home care workforce report on the poor quality of home care jobs and explain that the chief reason for home care workers’ low pay is that they are exempt from federal minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In “America’s Fastest Growing Job Pays Poorly,” published on March 11, Annalyn Kurtz writes that there is an increasing demand for home care, and plenty of jobs are available. Yet home care workers “make the same wage as teenagers flipping burgers or selling clothes at the mall, and nearly half depend on public assistance to make ends meet.

Undervalued and Underpaid

Home care workers are “undervalued and underpaid” because most are women (90 percent), half are minorities, and more than a quarter are immigrants (28 percent), Eileen Boris, professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-author of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State, says in the article.

Another contributing factor to home care workers’ low wages is that many have only a high school diploma, so “these workers have far less bargaining power against the large associations and companies lobbying against a change” in the companionship exemption, Kurtz writes.

New York Times on Wages

The New York Times has again editorialized in support of fair pay for home care workers.

The home care industry is “fighting back” against the Obama Administration‘s efforts to revise the companionship exemption to extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers, reports the second article, “Why Grandma’s Aide Earns So Little,” published on March 12.

Among the industry’s arguments — besides cost — for opposing fair wages for home care workers is simply that they don’t deserve them.

“What they do is static, there’s not a lot of effort,” Val Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, is quoted as saying in the article, which explains that he is referencing “companion” workers. (Companions will still be exempt from federal labor protections under the revised rule.)

“It’s in the same category as babysitters. We don’t think they should be subject to overtime,” he said.

“No one should be fooled by this misdirection by the home care industry,” said Steve Edelstein, PHI national policy director.

Edelstein continues:

This debate is not about the small number of companions who are casually employed a few hours a week to play chess or watch TV with an elder. This is about the millions of professional home care aides who make their living providing the personal care services that allow elders and people with disabilities to live independently in their own homes. These workers deserve the same protections as other workers and the industry should be ashamed to suggest otherwise.

Companies Already Pay Minimum Wage and Overtime

The article points out that many states already have greater labor protections for home care workers — 21 states have minimum wage protections and 15 of these states also require overtime — and “businesses there are still growing.”

Citing “Can Home Care Companies Manage Overtime Hours? Three Successful Models” (pdf), a PHI policy brief, Kurtz reports on how the Bronx-based Cooperative Home Care Associates and Illinois-based Addus Homecare have been able to manage overtime cases.

“As more older consumers demand health care at home, competitors will eventually need to rethink their stance on wages and overtime as well,” says Darby Anderson, an Addus vice president, in the article.

— by Deane Beebe

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