White House Conference on Aging Spotlights Need to Improve Home Care Jobs

Last week, I attended a White House Conference on Aging event that focused on supporting caregivers—both unpaid family caregivers and paid direct care workers (including home care workers, home health aides, and personal care attendants).

These caregivers are the people who make aging in place possible. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, and 9 in 10 of them wanting to remain at home, the need for caregivers is growing fast. But with fewer family caregivers available, the only way we will meet the rising demand for long-term services and supports is if we invest in, and quantifiably value, home care workers. How? By providing them family-sustaining wages, benefits, paid time off, paid sick leave, support, training, and opportunities for advancement.

To attract the one million new home care workers we will need in the next seven years, we must also ensure that, at a minimum, home care workers are fully covered by state and federal labor protections. Federal minimum wage and overtime laws cover almost all workers in America. Yet, due to outdated, unfair rules rooted in racism and sexism, two million home care workers are exempt from these baseline protections. President Obama and the U.S. Department of Labor have been working to push through new rules that will right this wrong. This crucial reform will help ensure that home care workers are treated with fairness and respect, while also helping to fill the fastest-growing jobs in this country.

The White House event featured Raleigh, North Carolina home care worker Kim Thomas, who spoke about the real-life effects of legal exclusions and poor job standards. Ms. Thomas provides supports and services that allow for individuals to maintain their independence in their home. But despite providing this critical and cost-saving, consumer-preferred care, she earns only $10 to $11 an hour. On top of that, she works a minimum of 16 hours a day, yet never gets overtime pay and has no paid leave, sick leave, benefits, or a retirement plan. To keep highly qualified, dedicated workers like Ms. Thomas in the field, we must improve these working conditions.

By 2030, older adults will make up 20 percent of the U.S. population; nearly nine million of them will be over 85. Despite fantastic advances that allow us to live longer, our country has not come up with a viable long-term-care plan. Without a doubt, that plan hinges on having a well-qualified, stable, and decently paid home care workforce. The White House Conference on Aging presents a unique opportunity to address the needs of older adults and their family caregivers by making home care jobs quality jobs.

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