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PBS NewsHour Reports on Home Care Workers’ Low Wages

March 18, 2015

PBS NewsHour aired a report on March 16 about the poor quality of home care jobs, noting that growing numbers of elders prefer to live independently in their homes with the support and services that home care aides provide.

The news segment, “Why Home Care Workers Struggle with Low Wages,” highlights how home care jobs are “physically demanding and emotionally draining,” yet the wages are low, benefits are lacking, and the hours are typically not full-time.

Home care workers are still excluded from federal minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Senior Correspondent Kathleen McCleery explains. A new U.S. Department of Labor regulation that extended home care workers these basic labor guarantees has been held up in court.

McCleery interviews two home care workers and their employers, and shows the aides assisting their clients in their homes.

Theresa King, a California aide who was also featured in the recent PHI report Paying the Price: How Poverty Wages Undermine Home Care in America, earns an hourly wage of $9.70 — about the average wage for all home care workers — and relies on food stamps to make ends meet.

Discussing her wages, King says, “It’s not enough to have your own apartment. You know, it’s not enough to have your own transportation without a struggle. You don’t really get to live a good life on the income of a home care worker.”

King is also shown speaking at a rally for Fight for $15, a national effort organized by the Service Employees International Union to raise home care workers’ wages.

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In the segment, another home care aide, Louasa Grant-Morrow, explains the benefits of being a worker-owner at Home Care Associates (HCA) of Philadelphia, a home care cooperative affiliated with PHI. She takes pride in being “part of the company” and says that being a worker-owner also pays off with end-of-the year bonuses and gifts.

Although the wages are also low at HCA, retention rates are higher than the rest of the industry, which has an average turnover rate of around 50 percent each year, McCleery reports.

HCA President and CEO Karen Kulp attributes her agency’s success to steps they have taken to improve the home care aides’ jobs: guarantees of full-time work, a transit pass for on-the-job travel, and other benefits such as paid time off, health insurance, a life insurance policy, a 401(k) plan, disability insurance, and the ability to become worker owners.

Kulp and Rhiannon Acree, founder and president of Cambrian Homecare and King’s employer, both agree that to pay the aides more will require that those paying for the services — private payers, Medicaid, Medicare, and other government programs — will have to pay more.

— by Deane Beebe

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