September 27, 2013
Earlier this month, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Labor moved to end a 40-year wrong by initiating rules that would give home-care workers basic federal labor protections. At the top of that list is the right to earn at least minimum wage, as well as time and a half for any work above and beyond 40 hours in a work week.
We think this effort is long overdue.
But while there may be a glint of light at the end of this long tunnel, the path to achieving the federal labor protections remain fraught with hurdles — not the least of which is the fact that the new rule won’t take effect until 2015. That’s a big change from the normal procedure, since most new federal rules usually take effect within 60 days.
The same scenario took place during the Clinton Administration, but the federal labor protections were never put into effect before he left office and wilted on the vine when George W. Bush’s attention was diverted by 9-11.
If implemented, the president’s proposed regulation would have a huge effect on the field of home care — one of the fastest-growing service industries in the country. Total revenue was estimated to be more than $84 billion in 2009, up from roughly $40 billion in 2001, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
That home care has continued to grow at such a robust pace, even during the economic downturn, is proof that demand for home help is greater than ever before. As the boomer generation enters retirement age — about 10,000 boomers will turn 65 every day for most of the next two decades — and as their elderly parents continue living longer, the demand for home care is not likely to slow any time soon.
The home-care rule is a victory for low-wage workers, and especially for working women, who make up most of the home-care work force. Once referred to as “companions” at best and “glorified babysitters” at worst, these individuals should be given the respect they deserve — starting with the pay they receive.
The new rule should ease the burden for all Americans who must pay for public assistance for workers whose employers do not provide a decent wage.
But it is, as yet, a victory in word, not deed.