Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Is Justice on the Horizon for Direct-Care Workers?

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Is Justice on the Horizon for Direct-Care Workers?

Article excerpt

Justice travels slowly, sometimes much too slowly, but when it does move, it does so inexorably. This appears to be the case with the convergence of a number of forces aimed at ending the long-term discrimination against aides who work in the home caring for the disabled and aged. Their duties range from housekeeping and cooking chores to caregiving and companionship, to personal attendance and hygiene, and, with training, may extend to health care tasks such as administering medication, changing bandage, and monitoring medical equipment.

Due to its legal history, this occupation is referred to by a variety of different, sometimes overlapping and confusing names. But, for simplicity, here those engaged most often in this activity will be referred to as either direct-care or home-care workers.

This article was occasioned by the report of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation's largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group. The report, dated Feb. 3, 2012, is titled Caring for Caregivers: Latinos in the Direct-Care Workforce.

Why is this issue important for the U.S. population in general and Latinos in particular?

Catherine Singley NCLR's senior policy analyst, drawing on the report, points out that by 2030, persons over the age of 65 are projected to make up 19 percent of the general population, up from 12.4 percent in 2000. In 2050, the population of older Americans is expected to number 88.5 million, more than doubling the 39.6 million older-American population in 2009.

With the dramatic growth in the older population and longer potential life expectancy, demand for long-term health and support services will also increase, Singley continues. Already, families responsible for finding appropriate long-term care for elderly relatives find their options limited due to high demand for community and group-living situations; as a result, many turn to direct-care aides.

And as Singley points out, the direct-care industry is a major employer of Latinos. Of the nearly 3.4 million direct-care workers in the U.S. (including nursing and psychiatric aides), 15.4 percent, or approximately 52,000 direct-care workers, are Latino. Furthermore, 23 percent of the direct-care workforce is foreign-born, compared to 15.8 percent of the general working population. This figure is not insignificant, since Latinos constitute almost half of foreign-born workers in the U.S.

"The vast majority are women, 90 percent, and 20 percent are foreignborn immigrants. And by 2050, Latinos will constitute one in three of American workers," Singley says. "So since Latinos represent one of the fastest-growing group of workers and direct-care is the fastest-growing occupation, this represents a real growth opportunity for Latinos."

Catch-22 - direct-care workers are grossly underpaid, often not attaining even the minimum wage or being paid for overtime. Where does the money go? Much of it to the direct-care services industry, the third parties who provide the home-care workers. This industry has seen consistent growth over the past year, adding 38,000 jobs just this January alone, and is projected to grow by 58 percent over the next decade.

"Many of these companies are making record profits," Singley says, "pocketing twice as much of the Medicare and Medicaid funds they get instead of paying it to the workers, 46 percent of whom live below the poverty fine."

Are we looking here at some Third World country, or maybe 19th-century sweatshop America? No, this is the current good-old U.S.A., land of equality. So how did the country get to this state? Why has this segment of the workforce been so cruelly left behind?

Here's a brief summary of the snarled legal history:

"The Labor Standard Act, as part of the New Deal, was passed in 1938," Singley says. "This act established the minimum wage and overtime, but as part of the compromise to get the bill passed, home-care workers were exempted. …

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