A University of Iowa law professor says there’s a growing segment of the workforce that lacks many important protections, from adequate pay to insurance to on-the-job safety. They’re invisible, says professor Peggie Smith, because they go to work in the homes of their customers. Home health care is one of the fastest-growing workforce sectors in the U-S workforce. She says the field is expected to grow by 70-percent by the year 2014, in part because of the aging of the Baby Boom generation. Today’s elderly people would rather remain independent, and it’s cost-effective to let them stay at home instead of living in an institution, but Smith says the home-care industry isn’t offering high-quality employment to the workers who make that possible.
You’d think in light of the strong demand we’d see good wages, but in fact it’s one of the lowest-paying jobs in the economy. On average they’re making less than nine dollars an hour. That leaves a limited pool of people to work in that field. 98-percent of all home healthcare workers are women, most are over the age of forty and more all the time are “women of color.” Many are immigrant women, she says, and many are heading up families with young children.
She says it’s understandable why making wage-and-hour rules, minimum-pay standards and safety regulations for this field can be touchy. Government is clearly reluctant to increase regulations that might intrude on the privacy of an elderly person’s home. At the same time it’s a growing concer, and Smith says the headway that has been made on the issue has come from organized labor. She says AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union have done quite a bit of work to organize home healthcare workers.