A Closer Look

Direct Care Workers – The poor are taking care of the poor

A salary of $20,000 for a personal care aide or home health aide is typical, with 90 percent of workers making under $30,000.

“A lot of people who look from the outside in think we’re just glorified babysitters, but we’re not,” Brittany Hampton, 31, said. She makes around $800 a month in Washington state near Seattle as a home care assistant. “We’re prolonging their lives. We’re allowing them to stay at home, versus a nursing home or rehab center. We are, of course, the cooks, the cleaners. We are companions. We are sometimes the first responders in case of emergencies.”

“We come in, we’re basically counselor, we’re security guard, we’re chef, we’re custodian, we’re chaperone,” said Myles Surland Van Tams, a 32-year-old who works full time in a New York City group home supporting people with developmental disabilities.

The vast majority of home care aides are women, many with family obligations that prevent signing up for odd schedules or doing work for some agencies that provide benefits but require live-in, round-the-clock shifts.

“This week I’m working the 4 to 11 [pm] shift. And next week I’m working the 11 [am] to 7 [pm]. I have to get my mind mentally ready,” Marvette Hodge, 37, of Hopewell, Virginia, said. She makes around $9 an hour in an in-home setting. Hodge’s three children are old enough to look after each other, but when they were younger, she enrolled them in expensive child care she could barely afford while working at Subway.

Caregiving — a low-paid, low-status job — is also most often done by disadvantaged workers. One in 10 working black women are employed in direct care; more than a quarter of direct care workers are black women. In contrast, while white women make up 35 percent of these jobs, only one in 37 working white women is employed in direct care. Latina women, as well as immigrant women, are also disproportionately represented.

Caregiving takes a toll on the body. But for many, the work doesn’t pay enough to afford health insurance. An estimated 46 percent of home care workers depend on Medicaid for their health coverage. Medicaid is also the largest payer of home and nursing care services, which means the poor are essentially taking care of the poor.

“Because I don’t make enough, I get health insurance through the state,” Hampton said, referring to Washington state’s Medicaid program. Her agency offers health insurance, but her wages of around $800 a month leave little room to purchase it.

The insurance is particularly necessary because direct care workers often get hurt on the job. Nursing aides, in particular, have some of the highest injury rates in the nation, just behind law enforcement and firefighters for days away from work due to illness or injury.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The future of work is the low-wage health care job – Vox

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