Obama Introduces Rule To Extend Important Labor Protections To Home Health Care Workers

Our guest blogger is Sarah Jane Glynn, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

President Obama, as part of his continuing effort to ensure equitable treatment to home care workers, introduced a new rule today that would finally extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to workers who provide home-based care to the elderly and people with disabilities.

The truth is, baby-boomers are getting old and somebody has to take care of them. The first boomers started reaching 65 this year, and for the next 18 years about 8,000 people will turn 65 every day. By 2050, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65.

People are living longer now than ever before due to better nutrition, greater access to healthcare, and innovations in medical technology. However, nearly 20 percent of those over the age of 65 need help with the basic activities of daily living, and the majority of elderly people with disabilities live in the community, not in nursing homes or care facilities.


As a result, home care is a booming industry. Employment in the industry is expected to expand 50 percent by 2018, at which point there will be more than 2.5 million home health aides and personal/home care aides.

Most people, especially those with an elderly or disabled family member who depends on this type of care, would agree that this is an extremely important job that should be reward hard work. And yet, the nearly 2 million home care workers in the United States are currently excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections included in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This exclusion was made in 1974 when domestic workers were extended FLSA coverage. Congress carved-out two exceptions — casual baby-sitters like high-school students who provide child-care irregularly, and workers who provide “companionship services” to people with disabilities and the elderly. This was at a time when home care was a fledgling industry, and the duties of home care workers today can hardly be dismissed as “companionship”. Home care workers today provide everything from help with eating and dressing to monitoring blood pressure and vital signs. Yet they legally can be paid less than the federal minimum wage, and are not eligible for overtime regardless of the number of hours they work.

The proposed new rule would change that, and it couldn’t come at a better time. According to the White House press release, “over 92% (of home care workers) are women, nearly 30% are African American, 12% are Hispanic and close to 40% rely on public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps.” The latest Census Bureau data shows that half of all Americans are either living in poverty or earning low-income wages, and this new proposal could go a long way in helping these workers and their families.