By Matthew Ozga, PHI (Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute), Special to Omkara World
NEW YORK, February 22, 2012- Life in the U.S. can be pretty stressful, especially during the current economic climate. But for an estimated 65 million people across the nation, that stress is multiplied because they are caring for another person. Representing more than a quarter of the U.S. population, family caregivers spend an average of 20 hours a week caring for a mother, father, grandparent or other relative. If you haven’t been a family caregiver yet, just wait – odds are that you will be one someday.
Everyone wants to make sure that their loved ones are well cared for. Some family caregivers provide assistance at the homes of their loved ones while others provide it in their own homes because the person in need of care lives with them. Today, other family caregivers coordinate care from afar because family members often live far distances from one another – even across the globe.
Regardless, few people realize the intensity of the stress involved, or the impact on their health in taking on that task. Compared to non-caregivers, family caregivers are far more likely to suffer from depression, have bad eating habits, and neglect to seek medical care for themselves. Most sleep poorly and don’t exercise as often as they should. Those caring for elderly or ill family members put themselves at risk of infectious disease. Additionally, the extreme stress caused by family caregiving can shave up to 10 years off of caregivers’ lives.
Home Care Workers can relieve burden of care giving placed on family members
Fortunately, home care workers can help relieve some of that burden. The nation’s home care workforce – estimated to be around 2 million strong — provides an array of critical services to people who are elderly, are ill, or have a disability, right in their own homes. These hard-working aides help with bathing, dressing, food shopping, meal preparation, medication management, and transportation to medical appointments.
This assistance can be crucial to family caregivers, helping to lift some of the enormous stress from their daily lives. It also protects businesses’ investment in their workers, since family caregiving costs American businesses as much as $33.6 billion in lost revenue each year. Home care aides make it possible for family caregivers to go to work each day, to care for children, or handle other family responsibilities.
Workers Unprotected by Federal Labor Law
Despite their critical work, home care aides are undervalued in the labor marketplace. Half of them earn wages at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and are subsequently forced to rely on public assistance like food stamps and Medicaid to take care of their own families.
Even worse, under federal law, home care workers are not even entitled to receive minimum wage for their services, or time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime. Unlike other domestic employees such as housekeepers, nannies, chauffeurs, gardeners, and others, home care workers are exempted from these wage protections because, in the eyes of the government, they merely provide “companionship” to elders and people with disabilities. That’s right – federal law considers these invaluable home care aides to be little more than glorified babysitters for your grandmother and grandfather.
In truth, our country’s home care workers are dedicated and hard-working professionals. But the simple fact remains that we need more of them – especially since the baby boomer generation has begun to enter retirement age. Between now and 2030, 10,000 people in the U.S. will turn 65 every day.
For years, PHI and other organizations have been arguing that home care workers deserve fair pay. Last December, the government finally took action. The U.S. Department of Labor announced a proposed rule change that would finally include home care workers under minimum-wage and overtime protections. The government is soliciting public comments on the DOL’s proposal through mid-March.
Guaranteeing basic protections for workers will not raise costs for consumers
It is no surprise that the home care industry is fighting this proposal. They say that guaranteeing basic protections for workers will make labor costs too expensive, and they will have pass the increases onto consumers. But the DOL estimates that compliance costs related to the proposal amount to less than one-tenth of one percent of the industry’s $84 billion in annual revenues. The home care industry can easily afford to pay its workers minimum wage and time-and-a-half for overtime.
It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that home care workers are afforded these basic wage protections that nearly all other U.S. workers enjoy. Visit www.companionshipexemption.org to find out how you can leave a comment by March 12 in support of the proposed rule change. Tell the Obama administration that home care workers should be treated like the professionals that they are. Explain that without home care workers’ essential services, our parents, grandparents, and other loved ones would have to move to a nursing home at greater cost rather than stay at home as they prefer. Let the administration know that a strong home care workforce would help relieve the burden of family caregiving, even if just a little bit. As every family caregiver knows, every little bit counts.
Adam is a Reiki Master, certified Health and Lifestyle counselor, Intrinsic Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, 20 year practicing bramana initiated Bhakti Yogi, Spiritual advisor, visionary, jock and veteran of the “hardcore punk scene” all rolled into one. His clients have included celebrities, politicians, professional athletes, and professional sport team owners. Adam is the founder of Omkara World and produced the mind/body fitness DVD “Intelligent Fitness.”
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