worker and resident

Immigration reform could offer the solution for a growing number of Americans who want to age in place, according to a new research brief from the Brookings Institution. 

The study was authored by Kristin F. Butcher, PhD, a nonresident senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings; Kelsey Moran; and Tara Watson, a PhD student in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a David B. Rubenstein, fellow in economics at Brookings.

According to the authors, demand for home health and personal care aides is projected to increase by 25% in the next decade. As with many low-wage industries, immigrants have become the backbone of home care. PHI, which tracks long term care, estimates that this group makes up about 30% of the nation’s 2.3 million home care jobs.

“We find that there is a negative relationship between the less‐educated foreign‐born labor force share and institutionalization of the US-born elderly,” the Brookings authors noted. “Specifically, our findings suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in the less‐educated immigrant labor force share is associated with a 1.5 percentage point lower probability (from 5.2%) of living in an institution for those aged 65 and older and a 3.8 percentage point lower probability (from 14.8%) for those aged 80 and older.”

Labor markets with a higher number of immigrants have both lower wages and increased employment of health and nursing aides, according to the Brookings study. 

“By contrast, wages increase for workers that require more training, such as registered nurses, and the hours they work decrease. The presence of immigrants appears to change the mix of caregiving services in a way that enables aging in place,” the authors wrote.

Therefore, they said, one possible answer to a shortage in home care workers lies in training immigrants to assume caregiver roles. A novel program in New Mexico, for example, provides a variety of services for Latinx immigrants. The 15-week home health aide program launched in 2016 teaches students how to transfer patients from beds to wheelchairs, bathe and dress them, care for catheters and prepare meals.

Read additional McKnight’s Senior Living stories related to immigration online.