Carolyn Gay, a certified nursing assistant of 20 years, says she wants to inspire teens to become caregivers to the elderly.
“I’m getting older, and in another 10 years, I’m going to need one of these girls to look after me,” said Gay, 72, a Polk County, Florida, resident who speaks at area high-school career days. It’s not always an easy choice to advocate, she said. “It’s embarrassing to explain why the wages for this job are so low.”
Well-prepared helpers for seniors and disabled Americans soon could be harder to find. The current workforce is aging, and low pay may make the career unattractive to entrants, said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, which focuses on low-wage workers. Immigration changes that could alleviate future shortages are stalled in Congress. And while state rules exist, there are no federal training standards for personal-care aides.
Need is escalating: By 2020 the U.S. will require 1.6 million more direct-care workers than in 2010, based on an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the New York- based Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. That’s a 48 percent increase for nursing, home-health and personal-care aides over the decade.
“If people want their parents and grandparents to be able to be cared for at home, and they want that opportunity themselves, we need to make this job a competitive job in the marketplace,” said Steven Edelstein, national policy director at PHI, a nonprofit that provides consulting services and workforce development for home health-care workers and groups. “If we care about the quality of the services, we need to care about the training of the workforce.”
The challenge is to make caregiving attractive as a profession while still providing affordable care, as responses to a Labor Department rule issued last week showed. Minimum-wage and overtime protections will be extended to most in-home care workers, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said Sept. 17.
The change will apply parts of the Fair Labor Standards Act to many who aid the elderly and disabled in their homes. That workforce is 90 percent female and 56 percent minority, according to an analysis by the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
On average, home-health aides make $10.49 an hour, nursing assistants earn $12.32 and personal-care aides are paid about $10, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.