Care workers in the United States: Where are we and where are we going?

One Pagers

By Susan Green, IWPR Affiliated Researcher

Care workers by the numbers …

A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows how the care workforce has changed over the last decade. In 2005, about 5.3 million individuals worked in the care industry, specifically in child or adult care in centers, institutions, or in the home.  The total rose to nearly 6.3 million in 2015, an increase of 19 percent.  During the same period, total job growth was just 5 percent.  Home-based elder care  employment grew particularly quickly: In 2015, 87 percent more workers provided this service than had done so ten years earlier.  This rapid growth is projected to continue.  Adult care jobs are expected to grow by 25 percent between 2014 and 2024—far exceeding the 6.5 percent increase for employment overall—with 1.6 million more elder care jobs by 2024.

… and the demographics

The vast majority of care workers were women in both 2005 (92 percent) and in 2015 (88 percent).  From a diversity standpoint, however, the workforce changed significantly during this period.  In 2005, 54 percent of care workers were White, non-Hispanics; ten years later, by contrast, workers of color made up half of all care workers. Over three in four care workers were US citizens in both 2005 and 2015, but the number of naturalized citizens in the industry increased by 70 percent over the same period.

According to the report, in 2015 women care workers were generally older and had more education than their male counterparts.  Although one might expect these characteristics to imply greater skill and correspondingly higher wages, in fact women in the industry earned less than men.  In 2005 the gender pay gap was 17 percent.  That gap narrowed to 8 percent by 2015, but only because men’s incomes declined.  Women care workers’ wages stagnated or fell despite women’s higher levels of education and experience, and notwithstanding the increasing demand for care workers across the board.  These trends were especially pronounced among older, minority, and foreign-born women providing elder care services, which is particularly disturbing given that these groups make up the most rapidly increasing segments of the care workforce.

What Changes Will the Next Decade Bring?

Will robots take care of Grandma?  That’s the provocative question considered at a recent IWPR event discussing the changing trends facing the elder care workforce in the United States.  As the baby boom generation ages, determining how to help older women and men with daily living activities is becoming ever more urgent.

To assess the impact of changing trends, such as the role of technological change on care workers, requires understanding where those workers are today and how they got there.  IWPR’s June 2018 study does just that.

What is to be done?

IWPR hosted a 2017 roundtable discussion considering current research and policy proposals. Several speakers gave updates on universal family care legislation, which would provide paid family leave, universal child care for children under 4, and universal home care for seniors and people with disabilities. Maine voters will consider a ballot initiative in November 2018 to provide universal family care in that state.  In January 2018, the Michigan Senate passed a bill providing a state income tax credit for long-term care; Michigan legislators have also introduced a bill to study the feasibility of state-supported long term care. One speaker asserted that such interventions might contribute to rising wages for caregivers, helping to ensure that sufficient numbers of skilled workers are available to meet future needs.

One speaker also summarized work at the federal level, and the 2015 rule expanding minimum wage and overtime coverage for home care workers, which may also increase certain caregivers’ wages, living standards, and attract more skilled workers to the field.  This could improve the quality of care for seniors and young children, according to one of the invited speakers.

The full report is available here.

Watch the recording of the event, “Will the Robots Take Care of Grandma? Technology, Elder Care, and Improving the Quality of Jobs for the Elder Care Workforce.”