Home care providers: Pay us $15 an hour

Moderated by Rick Badie

Home care providers across the nation have joined the movement for a $15 an hour minimum wage. An Atlanta provider writes about her love for the job as well as the need for a larger paycheck. Also today, a researcher for a fiscally conservative think tank warns about the negative consequences of raising the minimum wage, especially for small business owners.

Home care workers fight for $15 an hour

Latonya Allen

Three years ago, I took a chance on a new career. I went back to school to become a certified nursing assistant and soon after, I began working as a home care provider in Atlanta, caring for seniors and people with disabilities.

Taking care of people so that they can live independently in their homes is something I love. But even though home care is the fastest growing job in the country, the challenging work coupled with low pay means that there aren’t enough of us home care workers to keep up with demand for services that exist in every state, including Georgia.

This care gap will be devastating for American families and our aging loved ones if we don’t address it now. About 10,000 people turn 65 every day; 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their homes. But home care jobs are not good jobs. Pay is low – I make $9 an hour or less – and most of us don’t get sick time or other benefits. We need a stable, well-trained workforce to meet the needs of aging Baby Boomers.

Everyone should be able to get the care they need in the settings they choose. Our loved ones should be able to live at home with dignity and independence – without breaking the bank. Families should be able to access affordable, reliable care no matter where they live or how much money they have. Too many seniors get caught in the middle – they have too much money to qualify for state-paid services, but not enough to pay for care on their own. Our country needs to value seniors by investing in home care.

Home care needs to be front and center for candidates in 2016. I recently met with home care workers from across the country and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to discuss our country’s home care crisis. We told Mrs. Clinton our stories – about trying to keep our cars running, pay the light bill, and keep our children in new shoes – and she heard us.

I told her that every month most of my paycheck goes to paying my car loan. I need a car to get to work and I have to prioritize my car note and gas money. This leaves little money for other bills. All the home care workers at the table knew what it’s like to scrimp and count pennies to get by.

My responsibilities as a home care worker – helping my consumers with toileting and bathing, preparing meals and monitoring medications, doing laundry, running errands, washing dishes, being a compassionate, stable presence – are physically and emotionally taxing. But my job means more to me than these tasks. I don’t want to choose between providing care and providing for my family.

That’s why I’ve joined home care workers and consumers across the country in the Fight for $15. Along with fast-food, child care and airport workers and adjunct professors, we’re calling for higher wages and union rights.

Home care workers know that $15 an hour and a union would change our lives. It would put our nation’s home care system back on the right path and help us care for our clients without living in poverty. Democrat presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have come out in support of the Fight for $15. Earlier this summer at the White House Conference on Aging, President Barack Obama called for higher wages for home care workers, too.

Home care workers – and the millions of seniors we care for – know fixing the home care system so that it works for all families must be front and center. Healthcare and the economy consistently rank in the top priorities for voters and working moms and dads across the country and across party lines. We are determined to make sure it’s a priority for the next president, too.

Latonya Allen lives in Atlanta.

$15/hour: A job-killing, terrible idea

By Michael Saltsman

This summer, 24 McDonald’s restaurants in Georgia installed kiosks where customers place their orders on a touch-screen computer instead of with a cashier.

This automation of entry-level jobs is motivated in large part by labor cost increases, such as those associated with the Affordable Care Act, and — in many markets – higher minimum wages.

If the minimum wage is more than doubled to $15 an hour in Georgia — that’s $30,000 a year full-time — fast food fans can expect these computer cashiers to spread far and wide to the detriment of people who used to fill those jobs.

The rise in popularity of a $15 minimum wage is explained not by economics, but by the enormous sums of cash spent on the effort by the Service Employees International Union. As part of a bid to unionize the fast-food industry, government filings suggest the union has spent $45,000 per day over the last three years fighting for $15.

While the effort has yet to yield new union members, the union has enjoyed policy victories in a handful of far-left locales such as Seattle and San Francisco.

Not surprisingly, there are warning signs already that the policy is a terrible idea. Ritu Shah Burnham, a Z Pizza franchise owner in Seattle, was forced to close her store and lay off 12 employees after the city passed a law raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Or ask the owners of Source, Luna Park, or Abbots Cellar in San Francisco, all restaurants that closed this year, citing the city’s wage floor as a factor.

These are just a few of the real-life stories of small businesses on the West Coast forced to take extreme action in response to drastic municipal wage mandates. (There are more stories available online at FacesOf15.com.)

And these aren’t just anecdotes.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted last year that the country would lose 500,000 jobs if it adopted a $10.10 minimum wage nationwide. This prediction, based on a review of the most credible economic research on the subject, suggest that job loss would only be compounded by a $15 minimum wage.

Even liberal economists — including former appointees and advisers to presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, have opposed the push for a $15 minimum wage.

This opposition isn’t based on knee-jerk partisanship, but rather the stark economic realities faced by effected businesses. While proponents try to direct your attention to the compensation of a handful of industry CEOs, the truth is their pay packages have nothing to do with the day-to-day realities of running a restaurant.

Raising prices to offset the cost of $15 isn’t an option in this competitive economy where price-sensitive customers can simply stay at home, rather than eat out. For the business owner, that means cutting costs or closing doors; for the employees, it means reduced hours, layoffs or replacement by computerized alternatives.

There is a better solution that can actually help low-income employees without putting at risk their jobs and the small businesses that employ them. It’s called the Earned Income Tax Credit. It supplements the incomes of low-income employees through the tax code rather than an unworkable mandate. It is better targeted than the minimum wage. It has a track record of reducing poverty and it enjoys support from both sides of the political spectrum.

The EITC should be expanded so that low-wage employees — particularly those without children — can live a little easier while still getting the work experience they need to someday earn far more than the minimum wage.

As Vice President Joe Biden said in his speech last Thursday in New York, “A job is more than a paycheck.” Nowhere is that more true than for minimum-wage employees who want to learn skills to quickly climb the career ladder. Unfortunately, a $15 minimum wage would eliminate the first rung.

Michael Saltsman is a research director at the Employment Policies Institute.


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