Home health aides and personal care attendants are being held in poverty while they serve our most vulnerable citizens. These are the folks who take care of people with developmental and physical disabilities, those with mental illness, and our elderly. They do so with kindness and compassion. How do we reward these angels? In greater Minnesota, pay averages $11 per hour. That should be an embarrassment to the entire state. In many communities, people can earn far more working in food service or in retail. It should then be no wonder there is a huge shortage of people willing to work in the field. In the state of Minnesota, home care workers and PCAs should earn no less than $15 per hour.
Let’s take a quick look at what they do. For starters, they deal with all the clients’ physical needs, and just as with small children, that can include situations with a number of bodily fluids. They provide social and emotional support. They are there for birthdays and everyday milestones as well as disappointments and setbacks. These workers are there during sickness and death.
Imagine for a minute the toll it takes on these angels who work with elderly and other groups that have a high mortality rate. When I picked up my father at 1 a.m. the night my mother died, the two women who were working were crying as hard as my father and me. I believe there were two more deaths within a week. These women earn so little they are forced to use food stamps to feed their children. That is reprehensible.
There are a number of other reasons to increase their wages besides this just being the right thing to do.
First, there are many people in institutions who, with the help of home health care workers, could stay in their homes. Not only could this increase their quality of life, it would be much less expensive for both them and the state. We need to create incentives for people to choose to enter the helping profession: home and community-based care.
Next, many small and rural communities would benefit from these wage increases. Most of our rural communities have either a home or a need for personal care attendants. Imagine five or six people with an extra $80 to $100 a week in their pockets. Where do you think they will spend it? In the local main-street stores and gas stations. It might be enough to keep a small-town grocery or shop alive.
We have well-documented wage gaps. Ninety-plus percent of these caregivers are women. Equally well-documented is the gap between whites and people of color, and increasingly in the metro area it is women of color who are filling the jobs. It would be a win for both these groups.
Finally, I would say this is the single most pro-life bill I have seen in my time at the Legislature. It helps the workers, people with disabilities or mental illness, and the elderly. To truly be pro-life, we must take care of everyone, including both those in need as well as those who take care of them. We must act now.
Please contact your senator and state representative and tell them the angels who care for our most vulnerable people deserve to make $15 an hour. Tell them that Minnesota does value kindness and compassion.
Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato, is a member of the Minnesota House.