Dick Meister: Home care workers need presidential help


By Dick Meister

Bay Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

The country's 2½ million home care workers have been waiting a whole year now for President Obama to make good on his promise to grant them the federal minimum wage and overtime pay protections they so badly need.

The need for immediate presidential action was made abundantly clear in a letter to the White House on Dec. 13 that was released by the National Employment Law Project – NELP, as it's called. The signers include people who are receiving home care, those who employ them and those who provide the care.

NELP's figures show that the average national wage of home care workers, including those working at for-profit home care agencies, is $9.40 an hour. Which means that one in five caregivers live at or below the poverty level, even in the 21 states with minimum wage and overtime laws that cover them.

In almost three-dozen states, the average pay is so low the workers qualify for public assistance. And that, of course, seriously harms the workers and adds to the serious financial burdens of the states that provide the assistance.

Unless the president acts, the situation is only going to get worse, with home care jobs expected to increase by well over a million by the year 2020 as the country's population ages. As NELP says, the home care industry is already one of the fastest growing industries in the country.

Over the next two decades, the population of Americans over 65 will increase to more than 70 million. And the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that by 2050, there will be 27 million Americans needing direct home care.

NELP's director, Christine Owens, notes that "many families rely on home care workers to get our grandparents out of bed in the morning and insure that our neighbors with disabilities live as independently as possible."

As Owens says, extending the federal minimum wage and overtime protections to the workers would be a first important step to improving quality within the home care industry. She notes that the reforms "will be perfectly manageable for the industry and will be good for both consumers and workers."

And, Owens adds, "It's the right thing to do."

Bay Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.


I am begging to be exempt from the overtime "protection". The State of CA or Managed Care companies will not pay overtime, instead they will reduce the amount of hours I can work to a 40 hr. work week. I make $9.50 per/hr, I am an Individual Provider (IP) in the IHSS Program & have worked for the past 25 years for one single Consumer who happens to be is a disabled Veteran, C-3 quadriplegic totally paralyzed from the neck down. I perform highly skilled nursing care such as assistance with coughing, R.O.M., daily wound care, digi-stim bowel care, catheterizations, injections, meds. etc... IP's working in the IHSS program will be mandated to a 40 hour work week, half of the 390,000 IP's are currently working overtime. This will be financially devastating for me (as well as the other 190,000) as I work 12 hrs. everyday. Of the 450,000 Consumers on IHSS, 46% of seniors & the disabled will be forced to have multiple caregivers/IP's. This will be detrimental & dangerous to them. Since the IHSS Program is 70% family care providers with a significant amount providing 24 hour protective supervision, is it in their best interest to have strangers forced on them to do their personal care rather than their family members? This will destroy families & will put many severely impaired at risk for institutionalization. Consumers will be forced to have multiple providers in 8 hour shifts even if they don't choose it. Many Consumers/Recipients have developmental disablities, auto-immune conditions, AIDS, dementia, psychiatric impairments, ALS, MS, MD, and require sterile procedures such as wound care etc.. that would be harmful & risky to have a revolving door of caregivers in their home. WHO WILL BE PAID OVERTIME? NO ONE! So the benefit does not outweigh the cost. Caregivers like me will be severely negatively impacted and SPD's will have their continuity of care totally compromised. Please exempt Live-ins & family care providers or The Federal Government should set the example and pay time and half by funding fully this overtime mandate in CA's IHSS Program.

Nancy Riley

Posted by Nancy Riley on Dec. 17, 2012 @ 9:38 am

paying for social security contributions and workers' comp on even short-term or part-time child-minders and cleaners. The result of that was direct, immediate and obvious - the pay rates to these staff had to be accordingly reduced to keep within budget.

The market will only pay so much for such unskilled work and, if the government insists that their employers pay all this fluff and fluster - most of which the often-foreign workers will never collect on anyway - then that comes right out of their pay packet.

Much better for home helpers to be self-employed, be paid a gross hourly rate, and then account for taxes, SSI etc. themselves. That's the only system I have ever been willing to entertain in my own home.

The law of unintended consequences remains inviolate.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 17, 2012 @ 10:23 am

choose the hours that they work, does not provide materials for them to use in doing their work, and does not specify the manner in which work is to be done -- only the result -- and prevents his home help from relying on him for a substantial portion of their income; otherwise they would be his employees no matter how much he wanted to be a tax cheat.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 17, 2012 @ 11:20 am

rather than provide sustained, longer-term employment. So the government rules actually make it less likely for people to hire stable help, let alone pay them more.

Of course, there are many ways around the rules, such as offering accomodation to foreign au pairs. Or using the home help equivalent of day workers.

But in both cases it leads to lower pay, less benefits and security, and the lack of a committed work relationship. The more the government meddles, the more folks find ways around it.

BTW, your crude defintion of what constitutes "self-employed" is erroneous in several ways.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 17, 2012 @ 11:40 am
Posted by Guest on Dec. 17, 2012 @ 12:55 pm