The war over home care wages continues, as workers organize a nationwide town hall “blitz,” seeking support for a higher wage standard and a union.
Over the next two weeks, home care workers will hold town hall meetings in two-dozen cities, with support from public officials, community leaders and clergy, including U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D).
These meetings, expected to draw thousands of workers, come as a new report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) shows that if America’s 2 million home care workers were paid $15 an hour, it would translate to $16.5 billion in their pockets, put up to $6.6 billion into the U.S. economy and create as many as 50,000 jobs outside the home care industry.
“People don’t think about giving low-wage workers a raise as a form of economic stimulus, but that’s the argument we’re making — in fact, it’s the best form of economic stimulus,” NELP Senior Policy Researcher Irene Tung tells HHCN. “Now that the U.S. economy is expanding again, workers at the bottom deserve to get a raise and to be able to provide for their families.”
Personal care aides and home health aides post median hourly wages of $9.67 and $10.10, respectively, despite ranking among the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S., according to analysis by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. Only one occupation in that study’s list, fast food workers, earns less on average ($8.81) than home care workers, whose overall median wage is $9.57 per hour.
It’s not surprising, then, that home care workers’ “Fight for $15” stems from similar strikes by fast-food workers seeking $15 hourly wages and union rights. In December, the two industries even joined forces to continue to attract attention to their causes.
“We’re well out of the Great Recession at this point and have seen economic growth increase, and supposedly the economy has recovered, but for the vast majority of workers — especially those in the fast food and home care industries — their lives haven’t gotten any better and their wages have actually declined,” Tung says. “That’s why workers in various sectors are joining together to ask for their fair share.”
Despite revenues in the home care industry having grown 48% over the past 10 years, average hourly wages for home care workers have declined by nearly 6% since 2004. The decrease in wages is due, in part, to the type of workers who fill these occupations, Tung says, noting that the industry is dominated by women and women of color.
In fact, 89% percent, or more than 1.7 million home care workers, are women, according to the NELP report. Thirty percent, or 600,000, are African American, and 16%, or 320,000, are Latino.
Written by Emily Study