The push for Fair Pay for Home Care (photo: @CaringMajority)
For the first time in United States history, a president has declared April as Care Workers Recognition Month. Making the announcement, President Biden stated, “Care workers help raise our children, assist seniors as they age with dignity, and support people with disabilities." Despite this, care workers remain among our nation’s least recognized heroes.
Today, home care workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the country and routinely face harsh working conditions. Countless providers are forced to hold multiple jobs and overwhelmingly rely on public assistance programs. One in four home care workers lives under the federal poverty line. In an industry comprised primarily of women, particularly women of color, the impact of this chronic underpayment widens gender and racial pay gaps, and tangibly undermines the wellbeing of our communities.
As President Biden noted, “care is the work that makes all other work possible,” and providing fair pay to home care workers extends far beyond the bounds of labor and economic justice. The vast majority of older adults and people with disabilities in New York would like to remain at home. Therefore, the opportunity to receive skilled health care safely at home and with dignity is a foundational older adult and disability justice issue.
Presently, however, New York faces the nation’s largest home care worker shortage in the nation. Investing in Fair Pay for Home Care in the state’s next budget will put an end to this crisis, incentivizing new workers to join the home care sector.
A 2021 CUNY study found that higher wages for home care workers and improved working conditions would not only attract more than 50,000 full-time home care workers, but the economic multiplier effects would generate tens of thousands of employment opportunities outside of the home care industry. An investment in home care workers would also net the state billions of dollars in savings. But time is short as the state budget process gets down to the wire.
As it stands, Governor Hochul’s executive budget is out of tune with the progress we made last year to index home care wages at $3 per hour above minimum wage. This was a small, but meaningful first step. The next state budget, due any day now, must continue building on this progress, advancing us down a path of justice and equity.
This is a time to recognize that Fair Pay for Home Care is a kitchen table need for millions of New Yorkers. The deliberate policy choice to underpay care workers leaves millions of families struggling to care for aging parents or a loved one with disabilities. But the Governor could work with the Legislature to enshrine Fair Pay for Home Care in the state budget and establish her legacy as a national leader in building a care economy that would make tangible inroads on centuries worth of systemic inequities.
Recent data from AARP-New York shows that 2.2 million family caregivers, predominantly daughters and daughters-in-law, provide 2.1 billion hours of free care, costing the state $39 billion. It’s well acknowledged that the best long-term care insurance you can have is having a daughter or daughter-in-law. We have both served as family caregivers for loved ones and know firsthand that this policy has the dual effect of pushing thousands of women out of the workforce or forcing them to remain in unwanted, unfulfilling jobs, undermining their financial security. Physical and mental health problems also frequently arise as family caregivers often feel isolated meeting the constant demands of caregiving. But we can – and should – do more.
Governor Hochul is New York’s first mother, grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter to serve as the state’s executive, and while her words of support are encouraging, they ring empty without action to pass Fair Pay for Home Care. Today, aging in place is a privilege afforded to few. Fair Pay for Home Care would change this, ensuring New Yorkers in search of care can find it; and will serve as another tangible step toward a future defined by care and love, justice and equity.
New York City Council Member Crystal Hudson represents the 35th District in Brooklyn and serves as the Chair of the Council’s Committee on Aging. Bobbie Sackman, MSW, is the former Director of Public Policy at LiveOn NY and is a campaign Leader with the NY Caring Majority and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. On Twitter @cmcrystalhudson & @SackmanBobbie.