Care Workforce is More Educated, But Wages Remain Stagnant

The care workforce, including senior care in the home, is in high demand, and workers are becoming more educated and experienced in their careers. Compared to past decades, they’re becoming older, more diverse and increasingly male, too.

While the dynamics of the care workforce continue to shift, low and falling wages may be holding back new workers from entering the space, according to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released Thursday.

The report looked at data from 2005 to 2015, during which time the U.S. market saw the care workforce—including child care and adult care workers—grow by 19%, with most of that growth within adult care specifically.

“Especially around elder care, [workers] are mid-career, further along, and more educated, even where there are more immigrant workers,” Jeffrey Hayes, job quality and income security program director at the institute, told Home Health Care News. “Despite the fact and the proven quality of the workforce, the wages are stagnant or falling.”

Workforce makeup

One of the most significant trends in the care workforce is the high growth rate of men entering the field, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research report found.

Although the care industry is still dominated by women, men represent a rapidly growing part of the workforce. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of male care workers grew by 42%, compared 17% growth for women, according to the report. Women currently make up about 88% of the care workforce.

The growth rate of male workers was surprising to researchers, Hayes said.

“The growth rate [for men], the numbers are impressive,” he said.

In addition to more men in the field, the past decade has brought forth a higher prevalence of workers of color and foreign-born workers. For the entire care workforce, the numbers of racial and ethnic groups increase 19% from 2005 to 2015. Hispanic and other or mixed groups increased 48% and 57%, respectively, with the fastest growth in employment by any race and ethnic group within home-based adult care.

Foreign-born workers were also more likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens and have been living in the country for at least 10 years. Current immigration policy debates could potentially impact the rise in the immigrant population in the workforce, however.

“Something has to be done to make sure we have proper programs in place to bring in workers with these skills,” Hayes said. “Overall, it’s better to let wages go up and attract workers already here in the job.”

Low wages

It is well-known that home care workers are among the lowest paid jobs in the nation, with a median hourly wage of just $10.49 in 2017.

Home care workers are increasingly more educated and older, but that isn’t necessarily translating to higher wages. For many industries, greater education levels and an older workforce suggest a larger skill set and corresponding higher wages, according to the report.

But for home care workers, the opposite seems to be true. From 2005 to 2015, male care workers saw wages dip 16.5%, while women saw wages decline 5.2%, according to the report. While men’s wages declined faster, they had higher wages overall compared to women.

A significant portion of the workforce population also lives in poverty or near poverty, the report found.

“It looks like many of the workers are living in povery or near poverty,” Hayes said. “Generally, when we look at employee groups, jobs [are[ one of the key ways people get out of poverty in the U.S. [Here], it looks quite high.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that conducts and communicates research focused on shaping public dialogue and policy.

The report was supported by the MacArthur Foundation Small Grants Program for Fellows, with collaboration from the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Caring Across Generations.

Written by Amy Baxter

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Amy Baxter
Assistant Editor at Home Health Care News
When not writing about all things home health, Amy fulfills her lifelong dream of becoming a pirate by sailing in regattas and enjoying rum. Fun fact: she sailed 333 miles across Lake Michigan in the Chicago Yacht Club "Race to Mackinac."

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