Between 2016 and 2026, the direct care workforce will grow more than any single occupation in the country, and more than 7.8 million direct care job openings will need to be filled in the United States. In Wisconsin, the number of Home Health Aide and Personal Care Aide positions are both projected to increase by 30 percent, requiring an additional 21,300 workers.
However, direct care jobs often offer low compensation, no paid leave or guaranteed health care, and minimal training or support. In 2018, the national median hourly wage for a direct care worker was only $11.83, less than $25,000 per year for a full-time worker. But 1 in 3 workers worked only part-time or part-year, making the national median income for direct care workers only $19,100. And, only about half of all caregivers receive health insurance from their employer.
In Wisconsin, the median hourly wages of Home Health and Personal Care workers are only $11.66 and $11.43, respectively.
As a result, many workers leave direct care or choose not to pursue these jobs at all.
Devaluing of these critical positions also reinforces race, class, and gender economic disparities. Of the 4.3 million direct care workers in the United States, 87% are women, 57% are people of color, and 25% are immigrants.
The growing demand for caregiving and poor quality of direct care jobs has created a shortage of care workers and unaffordability of caregiving services. However, the State of Wisconsin can ensure that long-term care services and supports remain affordable and accessible to people who need them through strategic investments. Citizen Action of Wisconsin supports investing in caregivers through:
- Higher, family-sustaining wages
Many direct care workers live paycheck-to-paycheck. Nationally, low wages are a primary reason cited by direct care workers for leaving these roles—particularly in economically stable times, when candidates for direct care jobs might instead choose to pursue less arduous, better-paying jobs in other industries. Higher wages are needed to attract job-seekers, retain works who would otherwise leave the profession, and improve the financial security of workers.
- Guaranteed health care coverage
Nationally, fewer than half of direct care workers outside of nursing homes receive health insurance from their employer. Purchasing health insurance on the private market can be cost prohibitive for workers earning less than a living wage. Guaranteed health care coverage would raise the value of direct care professions and help attract and retain workers.
- Guaranteed paid leave
Guaranteed paid leave for direct care workers would also increase the desirability of these jobs. Care workers would also be able to afford to take time off from work for their own families’ care needs, such as caring for an ailing relative or new child.
- Pathways for professional development
Career advancement opportunities in direct care enable workers to take on more expansive and satisfying roles, which can reduce turnover and make the job more competitive with other comparable industries. Additionally, some research has found that when direct care workers take on advanced roles, they improve care for clients, reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, and potentially save health care costs. Advanced roles can be created to: aide clients with care coordination and transitions; support clients with complex chronic conditions; assist with clinical observation and reporting; educate clients on health promotion and medication adherence; mentor newly hired aides; and help with entry-level training.
- Enhanced training and professional support for workers
A well-prepared direct care workforce will ensure that workers have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to succeed in their roles—and that older people and people with disabilities receive high-quality supports. Increased funding for training programs and professional supports from the state can help care workers and agencies feel more respected and valued.