The COVID pandemic has put a spotlight on caregivers, but there’s no pot of gold to reward them for their efforts.
“It has taken a significant health crisis for our country to begin seeing the value of our long-term care system and its workforce – but this research shows how much work is needed to address the many barriers facing direct care workers,” says Jodi M. Surgeon, president of national advocacy organization, PHI. However, despite a high demand and growing appreciation for caregivers, wages remain low. This is among the results from a new PHI survey.
Among key findings:
- The caregiving workforce is growing. The number of direct care workers in the U.S. has grown from 3 million in 2009 to 4.6 million in 2019. Today, this group is larger than any single U.S. occupation.
- Workers represent a diverse group. The vast majority of direct care workers are women (87%), and more than half (59%) are people of color. Nearly a third (27%) are immigrants.
- Wages remain low. Inflation-adjusted median hourly wages for direct care workers only increased from $12.61 in 2009 to $12.80 in 2019.
- Earnings lag for some more than others. Of direct caregivers, home care workers have the lowest annual income at $17,200, followed by residential care aides at $21,200 and nursing home nursing assistants at $23,300.
- Demand is high. From 2018 to 2028, the long-term care sector will need to fill 8.2 million direct caregiver job openings. This includes 1.3 million to meet rising demand and 6.9 million to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the workforce altogether.
- Inadequate compensation and poor work quality drive turnover across care settings.
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on direct care workers. While it has raised their visibility and showcased them as healthcare heroes, it also has increased their challenges, such as those related to balancing work and family. The pandemic also has had a tragic effect on this workforce sector. In the first four months of the crisis alone, approximately 600 nursing home staff have died of the virus.
“COVID-19 has compelled us to take a closer look at these workers and the entire industry, and this data provides valuable insights to inform this moment and beyond,” says PHI data and policy analyst Stephen Campbell. He adds, “However, we need more data and new studies on this workforce to inform the solutions that will transform these jobs in the long term.”
With the older population growing and the population of people with Alzheimer’s expected to double in the next 30 years, the need to attract and train good caregivers to the field is urgent. However, to date, there continues to be a dearth of innovative programs and solutions.