Home care worker tends to man

Low pay and poor working conditions are the norm for workers in long-term care, according to a report published Wednesday by the think tank Economic Policy Institute.

Researchers gathered data on employment levels, demographics, compensation, poverty rates and unionization of workers. The field is dominated by women, especially Black and immigrant women, the authors said.

Their key findings:

  • 80.9% of long-term care workers are women.
  • 22.4% are Black women, and 12.8% are immigrant women.
  • $15.22 is the median hourly pay rate, below the US median hourly wage of $20.07.
  • 7.2% live in poverty, a higher percentage than the poverty rate for all workers (5.3%).
  • 6.9% are covered by a union contract, a lower rate than the overall workforce (11.9%).

Long-term care employment is 400,000 jobs below pre-pandemic levels, which accounts for about a third of private-sector jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the researchers. 

“For too long, our society has devalued the elderly and people with disabilities as well as the workers who help them lead more enriched and independent lives. It is no coincidence that women — particularly women of color and immigrants — perform much of this hands-on care work, both paid and unpaid, in homes and in residential long-term care settings,” said Julia Wolfe, former EPI state economic analyst and a co-author of the report.

Long-term care workers also are less likely than other workers to have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans (24.7% compared with 35.1% of other workers) or health insurance (45.4% compared with 50.7% of other workers), according to EPI.

“Benefits access rates are especially low for women and non-US citizens in this industry,” the report’s authors noted.

Additionally, the data show that workers in long-term care are slightly more likely to work multiple jobs than the overall workforce (6.6% compared with 5.1%), especially direct care workers and licensed practical nurses (both 7.2%), as well as Black workers (8%) and Asian American and Pacific Islander workers (7.9%).

Increased public funding is an answer to ensuring higher pay, better staffing levels and improved working conditions for workers, according to the researchers. They also called upon policymakers to raise the minimum wage and strengthen protections for workers seeking to organize a union.

Public funding, according to Marokey Sawo, EPI state economic analyst and a co-author of the report, also could ensure “adequate care access and quality for those in need, regardless of their income or wealth level.”