Despite New Challenges, Low Wages Continue to Plague Home Care Jobs

Despite the spotlight that COVID-19 has placed on in-home care, the newfound visibility has not translated into higher wages or income for most caregivers. That’s true even as in-home care workers continue working with added safety risks and emerging job challenges.

That’s according to a new report released Tuesday from PHI, a New York-based advocacy organization for direct care workers.

In general, the overall caregiver workforce experienced major growth over the previous decade, increasing from 3 million workers in 2009 to 4.6 million in 2019. It is currently the largest U.S. workforce, according to PHI.

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Of the overall caregiver population of 4.6 million, about 2.4 million individuals are classified as home care workers.

As the home care workforce steadily grows in size, workers are being sent to the front lines of the COVID-19 public health emergency to care for older adults. That work should be rewarded with higher wages, bonuses and “hero pay,” advocates argue.

But that’s not happening enough to make a difference.

“This annual research continues to show the range of economic barriers facing direct care workers — persistently low wages, high poverty rates and various pressures that will make it difficult to meet the growing demand for these workers in the years ahead,” Robert Espinoza, PHI’s vice president of policy, told Home Health Care News in an email. “The COVID-19 crisis highlighted and amplified the many job-related challenges facing direct care workers in this country, as described in this report. Even though direct care workers have been deemed essential during this pandemic, this new data shows that they are not compensated or respected for their critical role in people’s lives.”

Over the past 10 years, caregivers have seen consistently low wages.

Specifically, median hourly wages have only slightly increased from $12.61 in 2009 to $12.80 in 2019. Home care workers, in particular, earned a median hourly wage of $12.12 in 2019, according to PHI data.

Additionally, home care workers earned an annual income of $17,200. As a result, nearly half of home care workers lived in low-income households, with roughly 39% lacking affordable housing and 54% relying on some form of public assistance.

The lack of a significant increase in wages for caregivers is especially noteworthy because the population of adults who are 65 and older in the U.S is expected to skyrocket to 94.7 million by 2060.

As the U.S. population ages, the demand for caregivers is projected to increase at the same time. Overall, there will be a total of 8.2 million job openings by 2028.

The report also notes that low wages and other job challenges “both reflect and perpetuate the racial and gender disparities faced by direct care workers.”

Nearly nine in 10 home care workers are women.

While people of color make up 38% of the total U.S. labor force, they comprise 62% of all home care workers. Nearly 30% of home care workers are Black or African American, according to the PHI report.

When it comes to age demographics, home care workers have a median age of 47. Roughly one-third of the home care workforce is 55 or older, a far larger share compared to the overall U.S. labor force.

Immigrants account for 31% of the home care workforce.

While COVID-19 has called for a closer look at the challenges in-home caregivers face, there needs to be further examination of the workforce globally, according to Stephen Campbell, a PHI data and policy analyst.

“This data provides valuable insights to inform this moment and beyond,” Campbell said in a press release highlighting the report. “However, we also need more data and new studies on this workforce to inform the solutions that will transform these jobs in the long term.”

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