Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Michigan's Direct-care Workforce

Since 1997, my son Danny has lived in a licensed group home, where he is taken care of by a variety of caregivers. Because the residents at his group home have severe disabilities and high medical needs, the home is well-staffed. At times, however, the quality of care has suffered because of the inability of the provider managing the house to retain good workers. The job is difficult, demanding, requires a high degree of responsibility, and comes with obscenely low pay. I remember many years ago talking to a full-time house manager and discovering that her daughter qualified for food stamps. I naively thought it was not possible to work full-time and still not have enough money to feed your family.

I do not believe that money is the solution to every problem with providing care to vulnerable people. It is hard to put a price-tag on the qualities that make a person an ideal caregiver, starting with a good heart and a genuine desire to help people in need, but the importance of direct-care workers in the lives of people who depend on them cannot be overstated. The way direct-care workers are treated and compensated for their work is in many respects a reflection of how society values the people they care for. 

The Paraprofessional Health Institute or PHI is a national organization that works to improve the lives of direct-care workers who provide essential daily living services and supports to people with disabilities and chronic care needs, including people with developmental disabilities. PHI's fact sheet on Michigan's Direct-Care Workforce  demonstrates how far we have to go in valuing the work that direct-care workers do.

According to the fact sheet, Michigan's direct-care workforce, at 156,000 workers, is larger than any other occupational group. Paid caregiving is also among the five fastest-growing occupations in Michigan. Nevertheless, the median hourly wage for personal care aides and home health aides falls below 200% of the poverty level at $10.42/hour, compared to the median hourly wage for all occupations of $16.26/hour. Hourly wages for nursing aides are somewhat higher than for home health aides, but still substantially below the state's median hourly wage.

Over the last ten years, "real wages" for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants increased by 3 %, but "real wages" for home health aides have stayed the same and wages for personal care aides have fallen. 32% of direct-care workers do not have health insurance compared to 13% of the general population. Part-time work is common.

Over half of personal care aides live in very low-income households as do 40% of nursing and home health aides. 41% rely on some form of public assistance such as food stamps, housing subsidies, or Medicaid.

According to PHI, "Michigan's booming demand for direct-care workers cannot be met without making these jobs more competitive so that they attract enough workers, especially at a time when the state has set goals to offer more long-term supports and services options to elders, their families, and persons living with disabilities." 

Here is a state-by-state look at the status of direct-care workers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Look at the executive directors wages. JOAK, PRS, Hope Network all making 200,000 to 300,000 dollars.