A group of workers gather to fight to raise the wage. (Photo Credit SEIU-ULTCW)
Everyday, Felicia Slumkoski –Barnes gets up at 4:45am to begin her day.
First, she cares for Desmond, her 25 year old, developmentally disabled son. At 6am she heads to her job as a caregiver for an elderly, pre-Parkinson’s woman. In the afternoon, she resumes cares for Desmond.
In all, Barnes clocks in between 70 and 80 hours a week at her two jobs.
Her life is similar to many hardworking people in Los Angeles, with one exception. Despite working long hours to care for those in need Barnes still relies on public assistance, and can barely afford to make ends meet.
This is a plight all too familiar to personal care aides in California. The population, many of whom are Black and Hispanic women, on average makes $10.77. This wage includes union and non-union personal care aides.
Barnes makes $10 an hour working as a personal caregiver and $9.65 an hour caring for her son.
Recently, there’s been a local push to raise the wage to $15 an hour for Service Employees International Union’s caregivers via the (SEIU) We Care LA campaign. Additionally, there’s been a national push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, unionized or not.
Across the country national and local raise the wage campaigns have been picking up steam. Recently, Illinois members of SEIU saw their wages bumped to $14 an hour and workers in Washington State received a raise as well.
Theresa King at a raise the wage rally. (Photo credit SEIU-ULTCW)
While personal caregiver wages aren’t astonishingly low, many caregivers like Barnes have been forced to work two jobs to support themselves – and still they fall short.
“The money I get isn’t even enough to pay minimum rent,” said Tamber Garrett, a 47-year-old caregiver working in Inglewood for a disabled male veteran.
“I’m cooking for him, but I can’t afford groceries,” she said. Currently, Garrett makes $9 an hour.
In-home caregiving is a personal job that requires long hours inside the home. Duties can include preparing meals, entertaining the client, and can even encompass things like bathing and medicine distribution. Understandably, the job requires patience, kindness and compassion.
“It takes some skill to be able to seriously care for an individual,” King says.
For instance, knowing how to properly lift a patient out of the bed or keeping a patient covered while bathing them, said Theresa King, a caregiver with over 20 years of experience.
“You have to do the things that you would do for yourself,” King said.
As a result of the skills and interaction necessary many caregivers are extremely dedicated to their jobs, despite the low pay.
The work is not easy work, it requires a lot of time, a lot of patience and a lot of energy, King said.
You get so consumed in it, Garrett said. “If you don’t do it then they don’t have the help.”
Although many caregivers are dedicated to work that they do, experts believe that the pay has contributed to some glaring issues within the industry.
Excluding death, family members resuming responsibilities and retirement the turnover rate in the caregiver industry was about 60% last year, said said Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers.
“In a lot of the cases we’ve found that it’s been about pay,” she said.
Additionally, due in part to older adults living longer and making the choice to stay in their own homes, the market is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rate for a personal care aide from 2012 to 2022 is 49%, while the average growth rate for all occupations is 11%.
According to an SEIU United Long-Term Care Workers (ULTCW) internal study conducted by public policy experts Elena and Paul Ong, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) caseload could grow from 196,000 in 2014 to 213,000 in 2020.
“The population is going to need more caregivers and we can’t hold on to quality caregivers at $9.65 an hour,” Butler said.
While the reality of $15 an hour is still uncertain, many caregivers would be happy with any raise at all.
“Getting a raise at this point would be wonderful,” Barnes said.
For her, it’s all about the small things.
“I’d be able to afford to pay more bills,” Barnes said. “I’d be able to do more with my son.”
According to Barnes, caregivers were supposed to receive an 8% in June. Instead they only received 1%.
“A raise right now would mean a lot to a lot of us because we work really hard to make ends meet,” she said.