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REPORT: Domestic Workers Face Poverty Conditions

December 12, 2013

A report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) explains the factors that cause many in-home workers, including personal care aides and home health aides, to live in poverty conditions.

Low wages, part-time hours, and a lack of health insurance and other fringe benefits all contribute to financial instability among in-home workers, writes EPI economist Heidi Shierholz, the report’s author.

Additionally, in-home workers typically have little job security and are vulnerable to exploitation, Shierholz writes.

Other in-home workers include maids, housekeepers, nannies, and childcare workers.

Wages Low Across the Board

“Our country is wealthy enough so that workers who play such vital caretaking roles should be able to earn a decent wage,” Shierholz said in an EPI press release.

The EPI report shows that nearly a quarter (23.4 percent) of in-home workers live below the official poverty line, compared with just 6.5 percent of workers in other jobs.

Personal care aides earned a median hourly wage of just $9.57 in 2012, according to PHI research. That figure represents a nearly five percent decrease from the median wage in 2002 when adjusted for inflation.

The average median hourly wage for home health aides, meanwhile, is just $10.01 an hour.

Policies Needed to Protect In-Home Workers

Shierholz further argues that the country needs “policies to protect these workers and help ensure they’re paid what they deserve.”

To that end, Shierholz suggests that states pass “bill of rights” laws for domestic workers, similar to those that have been enacted in New York, California, and Hawaii.

She also argues in favor of policies that will strengthen the low-wage workforce more generally, including a stronger social safety net, mandatory paid sick days, and a higher federal minimum wage.

A supplementary EPI report (pdf) provides a state-by-state breakdown of the national in-home workforce.

— by Matthew Ozga

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