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Home care workers may get minimum wage, overtime

The administration's proposal could help a growing industry retain workers. But some say high labor costs could limit care for the elderly and disabled. Here, registered nurse Susan Eager (L) checks on Jane Awise, who suffers from severe diabetes, while performing a home visit on Nov. 4, 2009 in Denver, Colo.

Kai Ryssdal: Today the Labor Department said it wants to improve working conditions for home health care workers, the people who care for the elderly and disabled. Until now, they've enjoyed almost no labor protections. In fact, as it stands now, the law treats home health care workers the same as casual baby-sitters -- no minimum wage and no overtime.

Marketplace Jeff Tyler has the details.


Jeff Tyler: Talk about a growth industry. About two million people currently work as in-home caregivers. In the next eight years, the industry is projected to expand by 50 percent.

But it's hardly a dream job. Thelma Reta cares for an Alzheimer's patient.

Thelma Reta: I don't get any overtime pay. I'm paid $35 a day. Usually, I work for at least 16 hours.

In the home where she works, the family treats her like a maid. But she was afraid to complain.

Reta: It's hard to find a job. So I just keep silent.

New rules being considered by the Labor Department would give homecare workers the same protections as other workers -- things like a minimum wage and overtime pay. Some congressional critics say the changes will hurt the industry.

Not so, says the National Employment Law Project's Sarah Leberstein.

Sarah Leberstein: One of the country's largest home-care employers -- Addus -- already provides minimum wage and overtime to its workers. And they've become a stronger company because of that.

Some employers agree. Robin Shaffert is with Hand-in-Hand: the Domestic Employers Association.

Robin Shaffert: One of the big problems today is there's an enormous amount of turnover. Treating workers well reduces turnover. That's going to improve the quality of care that our loved ones receive.

Even if costs rise because health care workers earn more, experts say home-care will still be vastly less expensive than the same services in a hospital.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.
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