THE BLOG

Giving Caregivers a Raise

02/27/2015 09:41 am ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

Home care work is the fastest growing profession in this country. Home care workers bathe your mother and change your grandfather's bandages. They cook for your uncle and help your brother get around the house. But despite the essential services they provide to help America's seniors and people with disabilities living with dignity and independence in their own homes, few people understand that these workers can barely afford to take care of their families.

This week, thousands of home care workers will hold town halls in 20 cities to gain support from key government officials and community leaders for their growing movement to win a $15 minimum wage and a union.

Today, the average annual earnings for 2 million home care workers in the U.S. are just $18,600. For workers like Jasmin Almodovar from Cleveland, Ohio, this is not enough to support herself or her family. After 12 years working in home care, Jasmin only makes $9.50 an hour and hasn't had a raise in five years. To cover housing costs, she and her 11-year-old son share a house with another woman and four children. "I love my job," Jasmin says. "This is what I like to do. But without a raise I can't keep doing this."

Real wages for home care workers have declined by nearly 6 percent in the last 10 years, despite skyrocketing revenues for the industry during that same period. And because women and people of color disproportionately hold home care jobs, they bear the brunt of the industry's low wages. Liliana Cordero, a home care workerfrom the outskirts of Chicago, is raising three kids on the $9.75 an hour she makes. She is the sole breadwinner in her family and because she doesn't receive paid sick days she finds herself going to work sick, missing important school events, and works more than 50 hours a week just to keep food on the table. Many home care workers across the country like Liliana do not receive paid sick days, retirement benefits or paid vacation.

For workers like Almodovar and Cordero, gaining union representation would mean a greater voice at their jobs and more power to negotiate for improved wages and working conditions. Studies have shown that unionized home care workers earn 16 percent more than non-unionized workers and are 25 percent more likely to have employer-sponsored health coverage.

Improving wages would also provide economic benefits beyond the home care sector. According to our report released this week, "Giving Caregivers a Raise: The Impact of a $15 Wage Floor in the Home Care Industry," if home care workers were paid $15 an hour, they would receive a 50 percent raise, an increase of $8,000 a year. We estimate that increased consumer spending generated by additional earnings in the home care sector would generate new economic activity of between $3.9 billion and $6.6 billion. On average, for each of the 2 million home care workers, this would translate to approximately $2,000 in new economic activity, as workers spent their earnings in their local communities. Additionally, we estimate that this economic activity would create between 29,000 and 50,000 jobs outside the home care industry.

The country will need about a million home care workers by 2022 to meet the growing demand of seniors and people with disabilities. Where will the home care workers come from to meet that challenge if the home care industry fails to improve the quality of these jobs? Who will want to enter a profession where almost half of the workers rely on public assistance and receive little or no paid time off?

Transitioning the fast-growing home care industry to a more stable, higher-wage staffing model is essential if our nation is to meet the long-term needs of both the caregiving workforce and our aging population. Additionally, it's what home care workers need to continue to deliver high quality service to their clients and it's what workers need to be able to provide for their families' basic needs.