A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) paints a stark picture of the financial plight of home care workers. Most of these workers — who care for sick, frail, vulnerable older adults and those with serious disabilities, are significantly undervalued and underpaid and deserve a higher wage.
The Biden Build Back Better Act, which recently passed the House and awaits passage by the Senate, would make an unprecedented investment of $150 billion in home and community-based services over 10 years. It will also increase the demand for qualified home care workers. However, finding people willing to do these jobs will likely get more challenging.
Many employers already can’t find qualified workers at current rates. If workers quit due to job dissatisfaction or burnout or because they can make more money at a big box store, what happens to those who need their help? Journalists can use the data in this report to delve into pay rates, workforce composition and investigate potential worker shortages and solutions in their communities.
EPI report key findings
The EPI report revealed that home care workers earn a mean of $13.81/hour, about half of what the average U.S. worker is paid ($27.31). Home care workers are primarily women (88.6%) and disproportionately Black (23.9%) and Hispanic (21.8%). Roughly three in 10 home care workers were born outside the U.S., according to the report.
The authors call for boosting the hourly wage at minimum, to between $21.11 and $25.95, depending on the benchmark applied, to help recruit and retain high-quality, skilled home care workers. Contrary to what some may believe, traditional Medicare typically does not pay for home care unless skilled nursing is also needed. Some Medicare Advantage (MA) plans now cover some in-home help annually, but it’s often far less than what’s needed to help an older person remain independent at home.
Medicaid, on the other hand, does pay for needed home care for people who qualify, but states must apply for waivers to implement home and community-based programs. Currently, there are over 800,000 people across the U.S. who are on waiting lists for home care programs like PACE, a Medicaid-funded state-run initiative that provides comprehensive medical care and assistance with activities like bathing, eating and dressing. (What is the waiting list like in your state for these highly in-demand home and community-based programs?)