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Home Care Workers Deserve a Fair Wage

Home Care Workers Deserve a Fair Wage
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If you don’t have someone near and dear to you who currently relies on the assistance of a home care worker, chances are you will someday. Indeed, at some point, you yourself may depend on a worker to help you with basic needs and to remember to take medications. Until this past Thursday, nearly 2 million home care workers have been excluded from federal overtime and minimum wage protections due to a “loophole” placing them, as Think Progress puts it, “in the same ‘companion’ category as babysitters.” As of last week,†President Obama and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said that the U.S. Department of Labor will proceed with amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

It’s a change that †has been needed for 37 years. Right now, six million of the 40 million Americans who are over 65 years old rely on some sort of assistance so they can remain in their homes rather than being placed in a nursing home or other institutional setting; their numbers are expected to double by 2030 as the Baby Boomers age. Many individuals with disabilities also rely on care workers so they can live in their homes. 92 percent of these workers are women, nearly 30 percent are African-American, 12 percent are Latino and nearly 40 percent rely on†Medicaid and food stamps and other public benefits. As†Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis says in a statement:

“The vast majority of these workers are women, many of whom serve as the primary breadwinner for their families. This proposed regulation would ensure that their work is properly classified so they receive appropriate compensation and that employers who have been treating these workers fairly are no longer at a competitive disadvantage.”

The FLSA was established in 1974. At that time, as the New York Times notes, the “home care industry was in its infancy” and “companions” were exempted from the FLSA. As a story by†Colorlines publisher Rinku Sen reveals, looking back at how labors laws came to be in the context of racial history suggests why such “exemptions” were made:

The Roosevelt administration passed many enduring economic reforms in the 1930ís, including the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act. The latter made it easier for workers to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers. Domestic and farmworkers, however, were explicitly excluded from both laws, a deal that allowed Roosevelt to gather the votes of Southern, white congress members, among others. At the time, 95 percent of domestic workers were black women in the South. Most agricultural workers were Black, Filipino or Mexican. [my emphasis]

Labor protections were expanded to include farmworkers in 1966. But the unjust conditions of home care workers only came to national attention in 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled that Evelyn Coke, a New York home care worker who worked as much as 70 hours a week, was entitled to overtime pay under the current law. To change the rules, Congress or the Department of Labor would have to act.

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8:21AM PST on Dec 26, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

8:47PM PST on Dec 23, 2012

I just want to know how this effects the medicaid paid in home care.

5:39PM PST on Jan 29, 2012

Good because the state will no longer be allowed to give less then minumum wage, but there is still more work to be done. The ones that need care are treated like they need less hours, but because of it the caregivers don't get the pay hours they deserve to be paid for, and the clients get neglected for it. Please sign my petition to get better hours for me and my caregiver.

2:15PM PST on Jan 1, 2012

Thank God! Speaking as a caregiver, I can honestly say that I am way underpaid. I enjoy my work and being able to help my clients stay in their homes for as long as possible. But a lot of my clients are through the state, not private pay, and so I am assigned to them and some are less than appreciative of my help. Some don't understand why I am there and especially with new clients, they are very uncomfortable with my presence. The point of that being, sometimes I have to put up with a lot of abuse (mostly verbal, but in cases of dementia it can get physical) for less than min wage. I always thought they got away with paying me that amount because they pay mileage (which is quite lacking). It's good to know the reasons why and that there is a law going through to make a change to that. I have worked for a couple different agencies, and have always been underpaid in my opinion. But like I said, I enjoy my work. We, as caregivers, do not get paid enough to do the work for any other reason.

12:46PM PST on Dec 28, 2011

Care givers are a huge help for people that can't help them self. I have a daughter that does in home health care.
It is hard work. You don't just do physical work for people, You also put your heart and mind to helping the person. You get to be friends with them. And it is sad to see the person suffering so much.
It takes a lot of energy to do this job. And my daughter comes home very tired and concerned for her client.
She can not make enough money to pay her own rent, etc. To do that she would need 3-4 people to take care of....there isn't enough hours in a day to do that.
So yes a real wage and health care for her and her family would be very nice to see.

3:30PM PST on Dec 27, 2011

As always, it is the Republicans who oppose this and as it always has been the female dominated jobs are the lowest paid. This is just as much a gender equality issue as it is a health care issue. With the increase in life expectancy and the growth of service industry, obviously there will be an increased need in home care (otherwise there will be a huge demand for rest homes - big business opportunity there). Women always seem to be the primary care givers so will we deny them a reasonable wage?

1:40PM PST on Dec 25, 2011

Agreed. The people who SHOULD get paid the most, don't. And many of the ones that get paid lots shouldn't.

11:13AM PST on Dec 24, 2011

Thank you for the info. I think a lot of us don't think of how hard these home health care givers and nurses work. They are doing a job that is very hard physically and emotionally that most of us couldn't do and wouldn't want to do. The service that they do is vital and a good care giver is worth more than they could ever be paid.So they at least deserve to be paid fairly and it doesn't seem as though they are. I worked at a nursing home for a short period of time years ago and not only is the work very hard, but it can be very depressing and emotionally draining. Thanks to all of the good care givers out there that are able to give of themselves and help others to have a quality life when so many (including family sometimes) don't want to have much to do with them.

4:39AM PST on Dec 24, 2011

Thanks for the info, lots of different sides to this it seems from the comments.

9:00PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

A good home health aide is worth their weight in gold. However, they don't get anywhere near enough for the services they provide. Many people couldn't live on their own without them and there should be some way to compensate them for the level of care they provide.

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