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.
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Latonya Allen lives in Atlanta.