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Image: www.thinkprogress.org

Image: www.thinkprogress.org

Here’s an question that most healthy, able-bodied people have probably never spent much time considering: How much should the people who help others to get dressed, shower and use the toilet get paid?

According to the present-day “genius of the market,” the answer is: “not much.” Home care workers in our society – many of them women and people of color, of course — are pretty much treated as a disposable commodity. Pay is low, benefits are minimal to non-existent, hours can be long and challenging and the work is frequently difficult.  The results of this situation are predictable: the quality of care provided is frequently uneven and turnover in the profession is high.

In the coming weeks and months, The Progressive Pulse will feature a series of posts by folks directly affected by this hard and often absurd reality. It is our hope that by shining a light on some of these real life stories, we can begin to inspire the public and policymakers to bring the issue out into the light. We welcome constructive comments, suggestions and contributions.

The first story comes from a Winston-Salem mother and grandmother named Mary Bartholomew.

Better wages crucial for home care workers – and for those in need of care
By Mary Bartholomew

I am a breast cancer survivor with a number of other ongoing health problems, including chronic lung disease. I have been assessed as fully disabled since 1986, and like many seniors I live on a fixed income. Having COPD leaves me with no energy and makes physical tasks difficult, so it’s very important to me to have home care assistance. I am granted 20 hours of home care help through a provider agency. My current caregiver has been wonderful, but she too is moving on and now it’s up to me to find someone new to help.

The trouble is that provider agencies only pay home care workers $9 an hour. It’s very challenging to find someone qualified who is willing to work for that wage and for such limited hours. Those who do take the jobs are struggling to support their own families and eventually have to move on to another line of work. When you add it all up, this means I have a hard time finding a consistent caregiver, and sometimes have no help at all when I most critically need it.

I want to stay in my home. It is far more comfortable and far less expensive for me to stay here than to move to a nursing home. My daughter has two very active teenage sons, and I want them to be able to visit me and spend time with me at home. However, in order to stay I need more consistent care. I’m fortunate to have a provider agency that cares about my needs, but they can only do as much as the law mandates. One of the best ways to improve the quality and consistency of home care is to improve caregiver wages. It’s time to fix this problem so that people needing home care – and those providing it – can live out their lives with dignity.

Commentary

raise the wageIn the giant banana republic of haves and have nots that the U.S. economy has increasingly come to resemble, any bump in the pay dosed out to front line workers by a company as huge and generally predatory as Wal-Mart — however modest — is a good thing. When a half-million people are able to take home a few more bucks a week, that’s good for them and good for the companies with whom they shop…like Wal-Mart. So hooray for the news.

Lest anyone get too moist in the eyes, however, and/or start cranking out humanitarian award nominations for the Walton family gozillionaires, it should be noted that the raises (1.1 percent for the average full-time wage over the next year, to $13 an hour and 5.2 percent for part-timers to an average $10 an hour, by February 2016) still leave those workers bringing home incomes much too low to live on. As the Associated Press reports about the new wage rates:

“Both fall below the $15 an hour ‘living wage’ many union-backed Wal-Mart employees have been pushing for. Driven by rising income inequality and a decades-long decline in middle-class jobs, workers are also campaigning for steep wage hikes at other major non-unionized employers, including McDonalds and other fast food chains….

In Fayetteville, Arkansas — near the company headquarters — a single parent of one child would need to earn $16.85 an hour, almost $4 an hour more than Wal-Mart’s pay raise for full-time workers, according to a living wage calculator created Amy Glasmeier, a professor of economic geography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The calculator examines the costs of food, housing, transportation and medical care around the country.

In pricier parts of the country, the living wage is far higher: In Philadelphia, it rises to $19.68 an hour. In San Leandro, California, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s more affordable suburbs, a single parent’s living wage is $23.22.”

The living income standard for a worker with one child in North Carolina averages $16.21 per hour.

Of course, the real solution to the problem of poverty level wages for workers across America would be a sizable bump in the federal minimum wage. President Obama has proposed raising it from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, but obviously, a genuine living wage would be significantly higher.

As the Los Angeles Times editorialized this morning, Wal-Mart’s actions should send a signal to Congress that it’s well past time for such action. Let’s hope fervently that such a message gets through ASAP.

But don’t hold your breath.

Commentary

More than three-million Americans will get a raise tomorrow thanks to common sense new laws in 20 states. Not surprisingly, North Carolinians will not be on the list. This is from a post this morning at Think Progress:

On January 1, 20 states will raise their minimum wages, while one — New York — will increase its wage on Wednesday.

That means that all told, 3.1 million American workers will ring in the New Year with a pay raise.

Eleven states and Washington, DC are increasing their minimum wages thanks to changes in the law either by legislation passed by lawmakers or referenda passed by voters. Nine others will see an automatic increase because their wages are indexed to rise with inflation. Currently, 15 states have automatic increases built into their minimum wages, unlike the federal law.

The January 1 raises range from a 12-cent boost in Florida, whose minimum wage will increase to $8.05, to a $1.25 increase in South Dakota, bringing its wage to $8.50.

The increases in the New Year will mean that in 2015, the majority of states — 29 and Washington, DC — will have minimum wages set above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. They will also mean that 60 percent of all American workers will live in a state with a higher minimum wage.

Another half million workers will get a raise later in 2015, when legislation passed in Delaware and Minnesota to raise their wages goes into effect.

Meanwhile, of course, the minimum wage here in Pope-land remains stuck at a miserly $7.25 with essentially zero prospects of rising anytime soon and the inhabitants of the right-wing think tanks calling for its abolition.

Happy New Year!

minwage-2015

NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week voters in four states–Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota–approved minimum wage increases that will address in part the eroding value of their state’s minimum wage for workers earning at the lowest end of the wage distribution.  As of January 1st, at least 25 states will have minimum wages higher than the federal level of $7.25.

It turns out voters and state policymakers recognize that the wage floor must have some connection to what workers need to make ends meet and what wage conditions are in the labor market overall.

At Prosperity Watch this week, the Budget & Tax Center looked at the minimum wage to median wage ratio in North Carolina over time.  This ratio signals the strength of a minimum wage relative to local labor market conditions.  The lower the ratio, the fewer goods and services a worker can purchase for every additional hour worked. North Carolina’s minimum wage to median wage ratio fell from 64.4 percent in 1979 to 41.2 percent in 2013.  Find out more at Prosperity Watch here.

Commentary

raise the wageHere’s an issue that North Carolina conservatives are no doubt delighted isn’t on the ballot in the Old North State tomorrow (other than through the positions of the candidates): the minimum wage.

Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times explains in this article entitled “In State Voting on Minimum Wage, Even Critics Sound Like Supporters”:

In state after state, labor unions and community groups have pushed lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, but those efforts have faltered in many places where Republicans control the legislature.

Frustrated by this, workers’ advocates have bypassed the legislature and placed a minimum-wage increase on the ballot in several red states — and they are confident that voters will approve those measures on Tuesday.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, binding referendums would raise the state minimum wage above the $7.25 an hour mandated by the federal government.

These measures are so overwhelmingly popular in some states, notably Alaska and Arkansas, that the opposition has hardly put up a fight.

Poll results in North Carolina on the issue are similarly encouraging. And while North Carolina is obviously not a ballot initiative state, it’s surprising that this issue hasn’t been more front and center in this fall’s election debate. Let’s hope that changes in 2015.