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REPORT: Home Care Workers’ Low Wages Negatively Affect Care Quality

February 18, 2015

The poverty-level wages earned by the home care workforce in the U.S. degrade care quality for millions of elders and people with disabilities, a PHI report argues.

Paying the Price: How Poverty Wages Undermine Home Care in America reports that the average hourly wage for a home care worker in 2013 was just $9.61.

Given that only 40 percent of home care workers are employed full-time, year-round, the average yearly wage earned by home care workers is approximately $13,000.

Roxanne Trigg, who has worked at a for-profit home care company in Milwaukee for five years, says that she earns just $9.15/hour with no sick leave or vacation.

Trigg, one of the many home care workers quoted in Paying the Price, adds that she recently “had to risk getting the lights turned off…so I could buy shoes and clothes for the two grandkids I take care of.”

Wages are so low, the report says, in part because home care work is “rooted in the history of exploitation of labor based on race and gender, particularly the devaluation of women’s labor in the household,” the report states.

Nearly 90 percent of home care workers are women, and more than half are people of color.

Effect on Care Quality

Poor wages and nonexistent benefits are tied to high turnover rates within the home care workforce, Paying the Price reports. Roughly one out of every two home care workers leaves her job every year.

High turnover correlates with poorer care outcomes for elders and people with disabilities, who come to rely on home care workers to ensure their quality of life.

“When people can’t find the care they need for the family members they love, it is a genuine family crisis,” the report says. “The outsized growth in our population of elders is going to make this problem far worse in the decades to come.”

The report notes that demand for home care jobs is expected to grow by approximately 50 percent between the years 2012 and 2022, a rate five times higher than overall job growth during that span.

A Drag on the Economy

The fact that low-wage home care jobs are growing at such a rapid pace — one million new jobs will be created between 2012 and 2022 — will drag down economic growth throughout the country, Paying the Price argues:

Rising inequality has made it impossible for low-wage workers like home care aides to achieve the hallmarks of the American middle class dream — owning a home, sending children to college, saving for retirement. When America’s fastest-growing jobs undermine economic growth, the consequences reverberate throughout our communities, making the future far more precarious for all of our families.

Suggested Solutions

The report concludes with numerous suggestions to improve job quality for home care workers — and thereby improve care quality for home care consumers.

In addition to improving wages, better benefits (including paid sick time), more comprehensive training, and meaningful career advancement opportunities are some of the factors that can be implemented to improve home care jobs, the report argues.

— by Matthew Ozga

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