A very real issue is impending; one many people are scarcely aware of. By the time this decade ends, the demand for personal, in-home caregiving — assistance with cooking, cleaning, and bathing for elderly people — will be 70% higher than it was at the beginning of the decade. Why? Two words: baby boomers. A large number of baby boomers — about 78 million, to put it in perspective — will be turning 65 within the next two decades. While many of these will be cared for by loved ones or placed into homes for the elderly, a large portion will rely on in-home care.
No big deal, right? That’s what some people think, and at the surface, it’s easy to see why — it’ll create jobs. The issue that these are low-quality jobs that are very taxing on the mind and body. In-home caregivers work long hours. They can be on call overnight or they can be forced to work fifteen hour shifts with no extra pay. Unlike most states, California overtime laws are a bit more protective of these workers and provide some overtime pay requirements for those who work for a for-profit company and even some non-profits. Other states that follow federal law are extremely lax – no overtime pay is required, despite the fact that these workers often work double the hours of a typical full-time job. The nature of the work doesn’t leave room for meal breaks or even time to take a breather, and even worse, in some states, these jobs aren’t governed by minimum wage requirements. In other words, some of America’s hardest workers are severely underpaid and overworked. In fact, according to a recent study on domestic workers, about 50% of in-home workers don’t even earn enough to support a typical family.
The Fair Labor Standards Act was put in place some 75 years ago, but due to the nature of an in-home caregiving job during that time, these laborers were excluded from its coverage. Back then, caregivers usually only worked part-time and weren’t the heads of a household. Times have changed, though; a large percentage of caregivers for the elderly now do so as their primary form of income, all while managing a household, and yet the labor laws that are supposed to protect them are extremely dated.
How to Change
There is currently a debate about what can be done to give these hard workers the compensation they deserve. For example, the Obama administration recently devised a plan to alter federal labor laws to increase the minimum wage for in-home workers and ensure that they will earn overtime pay when working more than 40 hours per week. There is also a current bill being discussed in California that will provide overtime payment when more than eight hours are worked in a day; furthermore, desperately needed meal breaks will be ensured. The bill will also ensure that caregivers are given access to the kitchen in the home for preparing meals. These proposals work well together, but as with any legal action, some people are concerned. Will passing them make hiring caregivers too expensive for some households to afford? Both sides of the coin are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.
The Bottom Line
If you’re an in-home caregiver, you shouldn’t be working for less than you’re worth. The issue is now out in the open, so if you feel as though you’re overworked and underpaid, especially in California, get a lawyer on your side and discuss the California overtime law.
Tracey Thatcher is an HR specialist who is adamant about upholding ethical standards in the workplace. In her spare time she enjoys painting scenes in nature.