Demand for home caregivers, the type of personal-care aides who can help cook, clean and bathe the elderly and disabled is expected to grow by 70 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the US Department of Labor. Home health care aides increased 52.4 percent from 61,000 to more than 94,000, second only to Biomedical Engineers, who saw a 67.5 percent increase.
The main reason for a surge in demand is that the first wave of baby boomers has retired and now in need of care, either at home or in health care facilities. But it might be a problem to find health care help in the future, unless these caregivers are given basic job protections. Who would want this type of work? Many domestic helpers are not covered by laws requiring California overtime pay, but they are covered by minimum wage laws - supposedly.
Given the long hours worked without overtime pay, many caregivers work well under the minimum wage, and many employers are in violation of the California labor code. In a statewide California study of caregivers of adults with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s, it showed that caregivers provided an average of 84 hours of care per week, which is the equivalent of more than two full-time jobs.
About 50 percent of all domestic workers do not earn enough to adequately support a family, according to a national statistical study of domestic workers released in 2012. It found that the median wage for nannies was $11 an hour, compared with a $10-an-hour median for caregivers and housecleaners. But 23 percent of the workers earned less than their state’s minimum wage. White caregivers received a median wage of $12 an hour, Hispanic and African-American ones, $10 an hour. Illegal immigrants fared even worse: they earned $9.86 an hour.
The report recommended, among other things, overtime pay and meal and rest breaks. And the Obama administration agrees: it has proposed a change in federal labor rules to extend minimum-wage protections and to guarantee to in-home caregivers overtime pay after a 40-hour week. At the same time, there is a bill in the California legislature that would provide California overtime compensation to caregivers after an eight-hour day (but that could be amended to say overtime after a 40-hour week instead of an eight-hour day, which would spell more flexibility for workers and their employers), and it would also guarantee them meal breaks and the right to use their employers’ kitchens to prepare meals.
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There are critics to these overtime proposals. They argue that home health care will become too expensive for the majority of families in the US, and they are probably right, given the exorbitant costs of health care as it is now. But forcing low-income caregivers to work without overtime and meal breaks is not a solution.