Stop Paying Home Health Care Workers Poverty Wages

Jacob Riis' photographs of sweatshops in New York City are classic images of a world we do not want to recreate.

Target: Thomas Perez, Secretary of Labor

Goal: End the exclusion that legalizes a poverty wage for home health care workers.

The United States has two million health care workers delivering in-home care to our elders and to people with disabilities. These workers make it possible for the elderly and disabled to remain in their homes, which is what most people prefer. It’s also far less costly to society than housing them in nursing homes. However, despite providing an important service, in-home workers aren’t paid as much money as nursing home aides, even though they’re doing the same job.

In 1974, an exception to standard labor rules was created for work considered primarily composed of companionship, as opposed to caregiving. Unfortunately, it also proved an opportunity to categorize all home health care as nothing more than babysitting. That meant hardworking people were excluded from receiving the basic protections of minimum wage and overtime. Over the years, this exclusion gave enormous profits to employers in the home health industry and an easy excuse to deny an entire class of workers protection from exploitation.

As minimum wage workers in fast food and other industries demand a raise, home health care workers are denied the ability to even make the minimum. With baby boomers entering retirement, home health care is one of the fastest growing industries in the country and valued at $100 billion. Its workforce should be respected and protected with minimum wage and overtime.


Dear Secretary Perez,

It is hard enough to work all week for the inadequate compensation of minimum wage, but when you are even denied making the minimum, you are literally working for poverty wages. Slavery is illegal in the United States, but if a person cannot possibly live on their wages, isn’t that a form of slavery? Home health care can be strenuous work and involve a good deal of physical activity if you have to lift and move a disabled person. It is comparable work to nursing home aides and they should be paid the same wage.

As baby boomers enter retirement, home health care is their best hope to maintain their independence and remain in their homes. The more independent people can be, the easier and cheaper it is for society. Keeping people in their homes, as long as possible, is better for all of us. Therefore, it’s also in our interest to see that the people who deliver the care that provides independence are, at least, paid the minimum with protection for overtime. To do otherwise is nothing other than exploitation.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Jacob Riis

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