Last September, the Department of Labor announced they were extending minimum wage and overtime protections to the nation’s nearly 2 million home care workers, who were previously excluded from these and other protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The rule, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015, not only corrects an unconscionable omission, but provides vital protections to an occupation that’s both the fastest-growing in the country and pays some of the lowest wages. In fact, most of the occupations projected to grow the most over the next decade—retail salespersons, food preparation and service workers, customer service representatives, janitors—pay low wages, exposing a deeper structural problem with our labor market and the policies affecting it. Why will most of the employment growth come in low wage occupations, and what can we do about it? Looking deeper into the data on home health care aides provides a number of clues.
Using the 2002-2012 American Community Surveys (ACS), I created a data picture of home health care aides over the past decade. First, the industry is booming: nearly 30,000 home health care aide jobs, on average, have been created each year since 2002, growing from 550,000 positions to 825,000 as of 2012. The rapid surge, fueled by the country’s greying population, will continue apace for the next decade: another 425,000 home health care aides will be needed by 2022. The median wage for a full-time home health care aide was $21,252 in 2012, or about $10.22 per hour. Median wages have actually decreased over the past decade, falling 6.5 percent from a median of $22,719 in 2002. However, just 36 percent of all aides worked full time in 2012, a share which has remained relatively constant over the past ten years. Among all home health care aides, median earnings were just $12,144 per year, down 14.5 percent from $14,199 in 2002. ….