Black History Month is a time to reflect, celebrate, and highlight the many accomplishments of Black and African American people around the world. It’s a time to educate others in the hopes of creating a better understanding of how the fabric of America’s history ─ past and present ─ will impact the future of every American. Before looking forward, I want to look back to the roots of my ancestors and their profound history with professional caregiving.
One could debate that enslaved Black and African American women were the first version of home health aides—an unintentional blueprint of what has now become the home care industry. After the Civil War, the term ‘domestic worker’ was used through the Jim Crow era into the 1930s to refer to women who tended to the daily needs of white families. Black women have a long history of providing caregiving services to families and individuals and we still see many of the same similarities today.
Fast forward to today: nine out of ten home care workers are women and 28% identify as Black or African American. These workers are underpaid and underwhelmed by the lack of support they have received as essential workers. The median annual income for a home care worker is $16,200. Half of home care workers receive some form of public assistance and 42% rely on public health coverage, most commonly Medicaid. As I reflect on the intersectionality of race and gender, I can’t help but to ask myself a few questions: How many of these workers are single parent households? How many have multiple jobs to provide for their families? How many are leaving home care due to the lack of pay and recognition? How many people will go without access to in-home care in the future?
The future of long-term care in America demands a need for home care workers ─ not because I say so, but because our rapidly aging population requires it. 71 million baby boomers are heading into their golden years, more people are living longer with the projected average life span increasing to 77.2 years by 2050, and the demand for home care as a viable alternative to institutional care is increasing exponentially. Who will care for all these people? The United Nations suggest that countries with aging populations should take steps to adapt and invest in public programs to meet this rapidly growing demand.
Despite the origins of home care, the fact remains: our aging loved ones will need care at some point in their lives ─ and the majority will wish for that care to be in the comfort of their own homes. Who can blame them? Home care not only keeps families together, but it’s drastically cheaper than institutional care. America’s long-term care future depends on a robust and effective caregiving workforce, and for that to happen, state and federal governments must start investing in these underserved healthcare professionals.
Healthcare is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the United States, yet our home care professionals work long hours without adequate pay, benefits, and appreciation. Take steps to share your voice and tell your state and federal lawmakers about the need for better investments and supports for home care. Tell them that this workforce is undervalued, and that we will all need home care in the future. The journey from servitude to professional caregiving that is paid at a rate commensurate to its societal value still has a ways to go, but we as a nation must support this vital workforce ─ because we will all need to be cared for at some point in our lives.
H4HC Ambassador and Program Manager of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at BAYADA Home Health Care