Finding ‘Fresh Blood’: How COVID-Related Unemployment Has Created a New Class of Caregivers

The home care market has been long plagued with workforce issues, with providers in the space often struggling to recruit or retain caregivers. But as the U.S. continues to see a rise in unemployment, it’s creating a new pool of job candidates.

And providers are getting ready to jump in.

“[COVID-19] has created a very weak and sort of chaotic market,” Michael Carr, an associate professor in the department of economics at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told Home Health Care News. “A whole bunch of people were suddenly unemployed. Most of these people were in service jobs.”

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As of the end of July, 16.3 million people were unemployed, largely due to the reduction in general business activity caused by shelter-in-place orders and operating restrictions. Roughly 963,000 more people filed for first-time unemployment benefits as recently as last week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overall, the surge in COVID-induced unemployment is more sizable than the increase during the Great Recession, which lasted from the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2010, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Amid the job loss and uncertainty, home care is one of the industries that has often been referred to as “recession-proof.” While that sentiment has received pushback from experts, it’s safe to say that the demand for home-based care remains high.

“Home care is an industry where the need is still high, and we have clients that need to be served,” Charlie Young, CEO of Synergy HomeCare, told HHCN. “In some segments of home care, we’re seeing the demand growing, so there’s absolutely a healthy, robust job market.”

NexPhase Capital-backed Synergy is a Gilbert, Arizona-based non-medical home care franchise that offers companionship services, in addition to personal assistance, housekeeping, live-in care and 24-hour home care services. Currently, the franchise company operates throughout the U.S., serving roughly 25,000 clients and employing about 20,000 people.

Young is among the growing number of home care leaders that believe the rise in unemployment has created a new labor pool and an opportunity to reach a new crop of caregiver candidates.

“This brings us an opportunity in the home care industry,” he said. “At Synergy HomeCare, we’ve seen our franchisees have a renewed focus on new caregivers coming into the marketplace.”

Specifically, job loss in the retail and hospitality industries has been a recruitment source for the company, according to Young.

“Retail has been hit very hard,” he said. “There is the hospitality segment, hotel workers and restaurant workers. Service-minded people make great caregivers.”

About 1.9 million store-based retail workers were unemployed as of June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The leisure and hospitality industry had lost 7.7 million jobs as of May.

Meanwhile, 5.5 million food service workers — waiters, cashiers, chefs, bartenders and restaurant staff — have experienced job loss.

Young believes that the COVID-induced labor pool benefits the home care industry in two ways.

“It brings a fresh perspective and fresh blood,” he said. “I think there are some skills and some aspects of service in those industries that are just tailor-made for home care. If you are coming from hospitality, restaurants or certain retail environments, you’ve been trained in service. That is only an asset when you think about putting them into the home in a one-on-one environment with someone in need of care.”

While providers are aware that a new pool of candidates exists, they will need to be proactive in order to actually lean in and benefit.

“One thing that we’re doing very tangibly is working with our recruiting marketing efforts to tap into these new markets,” Young said. “An example of this is through Facebook advertising. It allows us to target a whole new segment that we believe would make great caregivers.”

The company also works closely with job site Indeed to create specialized marketing programs in order to tap into the new pool.

“Prior to COVID-19, that was one specific profile — people that were already in that market,” Young said. “We’ve now expanded and are able to vertically target other communities. Expanding your field of vision can only be helpful.”

Likewise, Boston-based training platform CareAcademy has also seen an opportunity in the current moment.

In July, the company launched a home care job training and placement program, in partnership with Kairos HQ, a New York-based venture capital company.

“[Anecdotally], we’re seeing everyone from gig economy workers, retail workers, and food service workers who are curious and accessing [our] platform,” Helen Adeosun, CareAcademy’s founder and CEO, told HHCN in an email. “The trendlines for those industries make this an opportune time to present our Future of Work opportunity to those prime candidates.”

CareAcademy has since expanded the program, teaming up with the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA).

Even with the opportunity for home care providers to recruit from a new pool of workers, home care providers will still need to step up when it comes to caregiver wages, according to Carr.

“The standard economist logic would be that the wages that people are paid ought to reflect the nature of the working conditions,” he said. “My suspicion is that the primary driver of recruiting and retention problems are the jobs just simply don’t pay enough.”

Moving forward, Young believes that this truly a unique time for home care providers that are looking to hire a specific kind of caregiver.

“There’s really an opportunity to be focused on really finding those people that have a connection to the vocation of caregiving, people that are empathetic, that are compassionate, that have life experiences in providing care and service to others,” he said. “I think there’s been no time like this in recent history for this industry.”

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