Speaking Out For Essential Workers

At some point in our lives, most Baby Boomers will need some sort of additional help, often in the form of personal or essential care. The problem is that right now, there is a shortage of essential care workers due to circumstances that are solvable. So today’s blog is about advocacy — specifically, using our collective Baby Boomer voices to advocate for this important segment of our society: essential care workers.

Essential care workers most recently were on the front lines during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. From child care to home health care, and despite the important work they provide, these workers are routinely underpaid and without benefits — under- or uninsured and without any kind of retirement or pension program. Yet they are a vital part of the health and well-being of so many people.

The majority of essential care workers are women and persons of color. Many are employed part-time because health care organizations can avoid paying benefits to a staff of part-time care workers. To be fair, many health care agencies, particularly nonprofits, operate with very tight  budgets. But the wages are so low that many care workers have to work multiple jobs just to put enough food on the table and pay for their children’s needs.

Follow The Money

How does such disparity between wage level and the importance of the work develop? The answer is in funding. While other low-wage sectors of society (e.g., retail, fast food) follow labor market demand — increased wages when the candidate pool is low but the demand is high — essential care workers’ wages largely are funded through Medicare and Medicaid, and the reimbursement rates set by states are often inadequately low.

In many states, employers can’t raise the pay or improve the benefits that would attract and keep staff unless Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates increase and/or Congress and state governments invest additional monies to cover the costs.

A First Step Towards Action

With the current Congress not likely to take action to pass comprehensive health care legislation, President Biden took matters into his own hands, and in mid-April, signed an executive order that includes more than 50 directives to nearly every cabinet-level agency to expand access to affordable, high-quality care, and provide support for care workers and family caregivers.

The executive order addresses three areas: the struggle families face accessing high quality, affordable child care and long-term care for loved ones; the shortage of care workers; and the inadequate pay and benefits, which causes high turnover rates at health care organizations and exacerbates the shortage of workers. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to use their authority to enhance job quality and wages.

Unfortunately, because it’s an executive order, and not a bill from Congress, there is no new money attached to the order. While the order helps, and some improvements can be made, it’s not enough. A full federal and state commitment and investment is necessary to improve health care jobs and provide equity and accessibility to care.

What You Can Do

To date, a few states have raised pay for care workers. But not nearly enough. The solution is a comprehensive national plan with federal funding. This is where Baby Boomer voices come in. Take time to write to your state representatives to express your support for increased wages, benefits, and job quality for essential care workers. But more importantly, voice those same concerns strongly to your Congressional representatives in the U.S. House and Senate.

If we Baby Boomers are known for anything, it’s our willingness to take a stand and not back down. This is a new opportunity to promote positive change for society — and that’s something we’re really good at. Let our voices be heard!

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age-in-place.

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