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The Voice of the Black Community
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Health

Caregivers at risk
 
Published Thursday, July 3, 2014
by Julia Hawes, The Policy Watch

Direct care workers such as home health aides and unpaid caregivers (usually family members) are the foundation of long-term care in North Carolina’s homes and communities. Unfortunately, the state lacks supportive workplace policies and protections for caregivers, a new report finds, undermining the economic security of those who provide such vital care and failing to responsibly address the growing “care gap.”

The direct care workforce is one of the lowest paid occupations in the state, according to a new report from the North Carolina Justice Center. The median wage for home health aides is $9.05 an hour, and the majority of direct care workers and low-income workers – many of whom, such as family members, provide informal care – lack access to earned paid sick days.

“Working family caregivers and paid direct care workers are a distinct but overlapping demographic with some important similarities,” said Sabine Schoenbach, author of the report. “Both groups are dominated by women, and the numbers show that the prospect of financial hardship is a reality for almost all direct care workers and many working family caregivers.”

There are four statewide trends that create urgency for addressing workplace standards of both the direct care workforce and family caregivers, the report finds. First, the state is rapidly aging – North Carolina is currently home to 1.3 million residents over 65, and by 2030 this population is expected to rise to 2.2 million. At the same time, the number of potential family caregivers available to care for those aged 80 and older is decreasing.

The third trend, the rise of the low-wage labor market, is cause for concern for both direct care workers and working family caregivers, the report said. Over the past decade, North Carolina has experienced a decline in middle-wage jobs and an explosion in jobs that pay too little to lift families out of poverty. The home health occupation falls squarely within the category of poverty-level jobs and is one of the occupations projected to experience the most growth in North Carolina and across the U.S.

Finally, state investments in crucial supports for our older adults and their caregivers are shrinking. For example, lawmakers have proposed cuts to the Home and Community Care Block Grant, a state-federal program that funds services such as home-delivered meals, in-home aide and transportation assistance. These proposed cuts, in addition to failing to expand Medicaid in 2013, have a direct and indirect impact on North Carolina’s growing elderly population and those who care for them.

These four trends create a need for increased state investment in programs that support our rapidly aging state, but also provide an opportunity to advance policies that provide good jobs that translate to quality care. Policymakers can help address the “care gap” in a responsible manner by providing direct care workers with a living wage and benefits. State leaders must recognize that low-income workers may also serve as caregivers, and, in turn, offer adequate workplace standards for all workers, as well as provide all caregivers the opportunity to take time to care through expanding access to short or long-term paid leave and sick days.

“All caregivers need good jobs to provide quality care,” Schoenbach said. “In addition to policy proposals and solutions specific to direct care occupations, there is a need to address the basic workplace standards of all caregivers. Fair wage standards and paid leave are at the core of lifting up the importance of care work, providing economic security to this vital work force, and providing the best possible care to our loved ones.”

 

 

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