Direct Care and the High Cost of Low Wages

Lena J. Weiner, April 3, 2017

Direct care is one of the fastest growing areas of healthcare employment, but low wages, nonexistent benefits, and a lack of opportunity for advancement threaten to jeopardize outcomes and disrupt quality of care.

Esme Grant Grewal
Esme Grant Grewal

"Can you believe how little they pay such important workers?"

I was having lunch with a friend who has been considering making a career change. A naturally caring, kind, and empathetic person, direct care appealed to her. Job prospects look good. The bureau of labor statistics anticipates employment growth for personal care aides to grow by 26% through 2024, and that of home health aides to grow by 38%.

Then, she saw the hourly wage.

"Twelve dollars an hour," she told me, shaking her head in disbelief. "That's what they pay them. I earned more than that when I worked in retail. And God forbid the car breaks down or you need dental work."

Given the high levels of responsibility entrusted to these providers, my friend couldn't believe the pay for these jobs was so low. Many direct care workers start at as little as $8.00 per hour in some places. (My friend and I live in a state where the minimum wage is $11.00 per hour.)


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She's not alone; many are surprised to learn about the low wages and paltry benefits commonly paid to providers of direct care.

Recently, the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), a non-profit trade association that represents more than 1,000 private community providers of services to people with disabilities, published a research paper examining the current situation of workers in the direct care field.

The results weren't pretty.

Lena J. Weiner

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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