Why home care workers deserve fair wages

By Laura Malecky
November 10, 2015

Across the country today, workers spoke out for fairer wages — including thousands of home care workers — as part of a Fight for $15 day of action.

At Caring Across Generations, we support home care workers in the Fight for $15 movement because quality care requires quality jobs. Recognizing the value of care, and matching wages to the value of the work caregivers do, is a vital first step toward creating a better system for all.

On Tuesday, we were proud to support home care workers, and we brought out senior members in five cities to join in the call for increased wages. The work that these professional caregivers perform is life-sustaining — and it is time that their wages allow them to make a living. As one of our members put it, “How can we expect home care workers to provide for our families when they can’t even afford to provide for their own families?”

Caregivers Deserve More

We are at an unprecedented time in our history — with the Elder Boom, our aging population is growing rapidly, to the point that in 2015, the fastest-growing segment of our population is seniors over the age of 85. By 2030, 20 percent of the American population will be over the age of 65. Every 8 seconds, one more person turns 65 years old.

The Elder Boom means that we will need a growing number of home care workers to help people age at home. Yet the average wage for a home care worker is $9.57 per hour, with an annual income of about $13,000 due to erratic hours. In some places, it’s even lower: In Florida, where the state minimum wage is $8.05 per hour, a caregiver that works full-time will earn $322 per week, before taxes, barely enough to cover rent.

Home care workers’ pay is so low that half are forced to rely on public assistance to sustain their own families, and half leave the workforce every year to find better-paying work. The first step in building the quality workforce our families and loved ones need is paying them fair wages for the incredibly important work they do.

As Caring Across member Ted Seuss put it: “Anyone who understands how to build a quality workforce understands that starting pay is how you attract the best workers.”

The Importance of Care

Caring Across member Elizabeth Johnsen knows first-hand how important home care workers are to families. After her mother suffered a spinal-cord injury at the age of 65, she began to need round-the-clock care, and relied on a team of aides paid for by Massachusetts’s home care program in order to live at home independently. As Elizabeth wrote here, the support they provide her mother is crucial: “They cook for her and assist her with eating. They bathe and dress her. They lift her several times a day — into and out of the wheelchair — and oversee her daily physical therapy. They drive her to the elementary school where she volunteers, to doctors' appointments and to get her nails done. They help clean the house, do the laundry and empty the garbage. They oversee her regimen of 20-some pills dispersed morning, midday and night; manage her blood pressure; keep her on a healthy diet; and care for her when she's sick.” Seeing their dedication to her mom, day in and day out, is why Elizabeth supports them in the Fight for $15.

Better Wages, Better Care  

As a country, we can no longer afford to take the value of care for granted. Ensuring all families can access the quality care they need without going broke, and that the people who care for our families can care for their own, will require a fundamental shift in our how our culture values care. And it starts with workers and families demanding dignity together.

Seniors should have choice in aging. Families should have support when providing care. Caregivers should earn a wage that is commensurate with the challenge and complexity of their work. Many of our families rely on the expertise of paid caregivers. It’s time we recognize the real value of care, and recognize the incredibly important work that home care workers do. It’s time for fairer wages for home care workers.