Home Care Takes ‘Fight for 15’ to Obama’s Doorstep

Home care workers and their supporters attended Monday’s White House Conference on Aging to further the goals of the Fight For 15 movement. Many supporters even wore red “Home Care Fight for 15” T-shirts during a panel on caregiving in America.

The Fight For 15 movement has gained steam among home care workers, whose campaigns have joined those of fast-food workers and other industry employees seeking $15 hourly wages and union rights.

“Of course the work of caregiving and home care workers deserves at least $15 an hour, if not more,” said Ai-Jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, at the conference. “When we look at the future of caregiving and the opportunity ahead, [we have] to revalue care and particularly support good quality caregiving jobs so we can have a sustainable, strong [and] vibrant caregiving workforce for the 21st century.”

In June, Hillary Clinton publicly endorsed the movement. In the same month, home care workers scored a major victory in a national fight to raise their pay when Massachusetts became the first state to enact a $15 per hour minimum starting wage.

“It should come as no surprise that people want to live in their own homes [as they age],” said Miami, Fla.-based home care worker Molita Cunningham, during a press call prior to the event Monday. Cunningham noted how home health care is one of the fastest growing occupations in the country.

“Yet demand is outpacing workers joining the field,” she said. “This is challenging work, and low pay is making it difficult to do this work.”

Home care workers’ pay averages $17,000 annually, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project. By 2030 the ratio of caregivers aged 45-64 for every person 80 years or older will drop to 4:1 and again to 3:1 in 2050, data show.

“America is in the midst of a senior care crisis,” said Andrew Hamilton, research coordinator at Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “Ninety percent of older Americans want to stay in their homes. The long term care system is not equipped to meet families’ needs. This shortage in the paid workforce leads seniors to rely on informal caregivers, who get little training and support. It’s common sense to invest in home care.”

With the creation of a $15 wage, the average home care worker would receive approximately 50% more in her or his hourly wage rate, an approximate increase of more than $8,000 in yearly earnings, according to the National Employment Law Project report.

Jasmine Almodovar, a home care worker from Cleveland, Ohio, shared the challenges she faces due to a low minimum wage. Almodovar has been in the industry for 12 years, she said.

“I am a single mother of a 12-year-old son,” Almodovar said. “I love the work I do, but I have joined the campaign because it’s very hard to continue working because of the pay. Give us the money we deserve and more people will want to do this work.”

Almodovar’s client, Shirley Thompson, discussed the impact having a quality home care worker has had on her life.

“If Jasmine were taken away, I’m not sure what I would do,” Thompson said. “In order for her to do what she does she should make the appropriate wages.”

During the conference, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez also noted the challenges home care workers face when trying to save for their own financial security as they age.

“How can folks who are barely making ends meet enter the conversation?” he said. “There’s no better way to save than to have a better wage and that’s why we’re going to keep fighting. We ought to compensate the people by the value of the work they do. If we did, then home health workers would be millionaires because that’s the [value] of work they do.”

Written by Cassandra Dowell

— Additional reporting by Emily Study