December 19, 2013

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In-home workers, 90 percent of them women, often live in poverty, earn low wages and work grueling hours without many of the protections enjoyed by most workers, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank focused on public policy that affects low- and middle-income families.

These are the workers who cook meals, clean homes and care for the elderly, the disabled and children. Nearly 20 percent of all in-home workers are Black even though Blacks account for less than 11 percent (10.9 percent) of workers in other jobs.

The EPI study looked at economic impact that low wages and thin benefits earned by in-home workers has on their lives.

According to the report, The Occupational Safety and Health Act doesn’t apply to people who hire domestic workers their own homes.

Unlike autoworkers, teachers and even professional athletes, in-home workers can’t organize to achieve better benefits and contracts. The fact that they often work alone contributes to their marginalization.

“Federal antidiscrimination laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, all generally only cover employers with multiple employees, meaning most in-home workers are excluded from these protections. This is also true of the Family and Medical Leave Act,” stated the report.

In-home workers make about six dollars less than workers in other occupations and roughly 12 percent of in-home workers receive health benefits from their employers. More than 23 percent of in-home workers live below the poverty line, compared to just 6.5 percent of other workers.

“More than half—51.4 percent—of in-home workers live below twice the poverty line, compared with 20.8 percent of workers in other occupations, stated the report, earning less than what it takes to make ends meet.

Despite low wages and subpar benefits, researchers estimate that the in-home worker industry will grow at a rate that’s 40 percent faster than other occupations by 2020, due largely to the incredible growth among strong personal care aides and home health aides.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of home health aides is expected to grow by 69 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of personal care aides is expected to grow by 70 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

As the industry grows, employing more minorities that will be responsible in funding entitlement programs like Social Security, it will become increasingly more important to ensure that they earn fair wages.

“Though individual employers of in-home workers can and should improve their employees’ wages and benefits, policy changes at the state and federal level are needed to rectify the exclusion of many in-home workers from employment and labor laws,” stated the report.

The EPI report noted that New York, Hawaii, and California have already started to develop protection programs for domestic workers.

The report also recommended establishing paid sick days, a stronger safety net and raising the minimum wage which would help to buoy the pay earned by in-home workers.

In a press release on the EPI report, economist Heidi Shierholz said that in-home workers are “a critical and growing part of the economy, yet, they are grievously underpaid and lack the benefits that similar workers receive in other sectors.”

Shierholz continued: “Our country is wealthy enough so that workers who play such vital caretaking roles should be able to earn a decent wage. We need policies to protect these workers and help ensure they’re paid what they deserve.”

Category: Business