The largest two categories of America’s fastest-growing jobs offer some of the country’s lowest wages and weakest benefits.
Over the next ten 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.
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 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 think tank in the District, 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.