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Home health care jobs on rise

Field among fastest-growing, but wages low, benefits few

The largest two categories of America's fastest-growing jobs offer some of the country's lowest wages and weakest benefits.

Over the next 10 years, analysts expect to see 1.2 million more jobs for home health and personal care aides, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's more positions than the projected job creation in the eight other most rapidly growing fields combined.

By 2026, the home health aide industry will add 425,600 positions, an increase of 46.7 percent, the government estimates show. The occupation's median annual wage today is $22,600.

The numbers of personal care aides, who handle mostly domestic tasks, meanwhile, is expected to climb by 754,000 jobs or 37.6 percent. They typically make about $21,000 per year.

Solar and wind jobs, which come with larger paychecks, are projected to grow by 105 percent and 96 percent, respectively, but the tiny fields will add just 17,400 new positions in the next decade, researchers predict.

Roughly nine in 10 caretaker positions are held by women. Nearly half identify as black or Hispanic.

Workers in these roles share one central mission: They care for people who struggle to care for themselves. But many live in poverty, and most have little to no paid days off.

"They're typically the breadwinners in low-income households," said Ariane Hegewisch, a labor economist at the Institute for Women's Policy Research who co-wrote a study last year about low-wage jobs filled by women. "But what they earn makes it hard for them to pay the rent, or get an education to move into better paying jobs, or look after their children."

Fifty-five percent of home health aides subsist on incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, her research found. They tend to rely on public benefits, she said, and lack the resources to set their kids on an economically better path.

Hegewisch said policymakers need to pay attention to this growing group of workers.

"If these jobs work well, the overall health system and social care system can save a lot of money," she said.

Hegewisch has proposed using Medicare dollars to supplement caregivers' wages, arguing that it would reduce turnover and save the government money by keeping the elderly and the sick out of nursing homes. Nursing homes tend to be much costlier drains on the health system than home care.

Demetra Nightingale, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank in the District of Columbia, said demand for home health and personal care aides will continue to skyrocket as the population ages.

"We have a lot of these low-wage jobs, and we're going to need a lot of these low-wage jobs in the future," she said.

President Donald Trump has said he aims to expand apprenticeships in the United States, and Nightingale said she hopes to see similar opportunities for domestic caretakers. Los Angeles and Seattle have robust -- and replicable -- paid training programs, she said.

"We need to provide career ladders for people who can meet the growing demand," Nightingale said.

Advocates for these workers also push for raising the minimum wage and a national paid parental leave plan, so that aides can afford to take time off to care for a sick child or recover after a birth.

Ivanka Trump, adviser to the president, has proposed opening paid leave to low-income workers through the nation's unemployment insurance system, but the idea hasn't gained traction on Capitol Hill.

Business on 11/14/2017

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