The Atlantic: When Will the Economy Start Caring About Home-Care Work?

For six weeks, LaTanya Thomas, a personal-care assistant in Minneapolis, worked without pay, helping to clean, dress, and feed her client. She and her colleagues asked their boss where their paychecks were. They spoke with the bank. They accepted five- or 10-dollar bills as a little something to tide them over, she said, rolling their eyes when their boss promised that their checks would be cleared by Monday and when she told them to go sign up for food stamps. They threatened to quit. Eventually, some of them did, and eventually, the company went bankrupt. (Its lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.)

“I hung in there because of the client I was taking care of,” Thomas told me. “His other [personal-care assistants] had quit because they couldn’t work without pay. But he was on a special program, and I was the only one left who could take care of him.” That decision ultimately cost her $4,000 in lost wages, she estimated.

NELP surveyed more than 3,000 personal-care and home-health workers, from nearly every U.S. state, asking questions about their pay schedules and relationship with their employers. A majority of respondents said that they often worked after-hours, without pay. Two in five said they never received overtime payments, even when they worked more than 40 hours per week. Four in five said they did not have a paid sick-day benefit. A quarter were potentially misclassified as independent contractors.

“There were parts that were not particularly shocking, about poor working conditions, low wages, and the challenges these workers face every day just to stay in this field,” Caitlin Connolly, one of the report’s authors, said. “For me, the more startling pieces were in terms of the stark differences in insurance coverage, paid time off, retirement coverage, and training opportunities.”

Improving training programs for personal-care workers might help both with the quality of the work and the quality of client life, the report indicated. The vast majority of workers said they wanted more training to improve their skills and better serve their clients. That might help with the country’s health-care cost crisis, as well. “Many acute, long-term illnesses can be cared for in the home. This was never really a babysitting job,” said Anastasia Christman, a senior policy analyst at NELP. “These workers see it as, and want to become, more specialized, to provide people with the best service for specific conditions and letting them remain in the home.” Connolly added: “I don’t want to over-medicalize the profession, but there are untapped opportunities there.”

Read the full article in The Atlantic.

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