New Research Finds Boosting Living Wages for Aging Services Care Workers Would Benefit Older Adults and Local Economies

PRESS RELEASE | September 22, 2020 | by Lisa Sanders

Thought Leaders Praise Research and Discuss Systemic and Policy Changes Needed to Increase Worker Pay

Lisa Sanders
lsanders@leadingage.org 202-508-9407

September 22, 2020 Washington, DC -- As America struggles to protect older adults from COVID-19, a gathering of leading academics, advocates, physicians, policymakers and nonprofit employers discussed new research findings on how providing a living wage for direct care workers can improve quality of care and bolster the economy--in addition to benefiting care workers themselves.

The panel discussion was convened by LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services, which released its new report: Making Care Work Pay: How Paying at Least a Living Wage to Direct Care Workers Could Benefit Care Recipients, Workers, and Communities.

“The kind of systemic changes that are needed to strengthen the direct care workforce cannot happen with the snap of the fingers, but working toward a living wage is a fundamental start,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge. “As a society, we have to value older people, care workers, and the field of aging services. It’s the right thing to do, and it will benefit us all.”

The panels, hosted by LeadingAge president and CEO Katie Smith Sloan and Robyn Stone, Senior Vice President, Research, via Zoom, featured aging services thought leaders from across the country (including Harvard’s David Grabowski, UMass Professor and Center for American Progress’ Christian Weller); along with advocates from the Domestic Workers Alliance, Community Catalyst and PHI; who detailed the the benefits that offset higher pay, and how over time the policy of higher wages for direct care workers will pay for itself.

We’re excited by this research. It demonstrates that all the stakeholders actually benefit from this very modest increase in raising wages to a living wage. And, it pays for itself,” said Stone. “This research is only the beginning. By showing what can be gained through a living wage, we’ll bring stakeholders together in coalition. LeadingAge is going to see this work through.”

BACKGROUND:

The coronavirus pandemic has made it clearer than ever that America’s 3.5 million direct care workers are critical to our nation’s health—but that they are not valued accordingly. Making Care Work Pay, prepared by leading scholars in the field, uses publicly available data and standard economic simulation techniques to demonstrate that the single action of paying a living wage has the power to:

  • reduce staff shortages and turn-over
  • improve productivity and quality of care
  • infuse billions of dollars into local economies, and
  • offer financial security and independence of care workers themselves.

Remarks by Panelists

Stephen Campbell, Data and Policy Analyst, PHI
“It is so important for policymakers to understand all the ways living wages can save money. We know we need transformative change in this field, and this report makes clear that the living wage will help us get there.”

Hayley Gleason, PhD, MSW, Director, Strategic Outcomes Division, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing
“There are difficult choices ahead for state agencies, legislators and governors. This report brings evidence to light; we cannot delay in identifying creative solutions to help the direct care workforce. Opportunities for advancement and specialization, as well as wages and benefits, should all be part of our goal.”

David Grabowski, Professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School
“All too often in the study of staffing we look at what paying a wage will cost, without considering the benefits. But there’s a potential win-win here. That's exactly what we see and this report does a great job of taking us through all the benefits.”

Ann Hwang, MD Director of the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, Community Catalyst
“The problems a living wage would address are immediate and profound: an older adult who might not be able to get out of bed and get dressed because they don’t have enough help; a family member of an older adult who might not be able to go to a job. These are the flaws of our current dysfunctional system and the price of us doing nothing.”

Jennifer Reckrey, MD, Mount Sinai Hospital
“Reliable care at home is a gamechanger for patients and their families. Paying a worker a living wage has a direct impact on those for whom they care. The people who provide this care are essential, non-interchangeable workers. Yet they’re not recognized by the medical system.”

Mark R. Ricketts, President & CEO, National Church Residences
“We’ve focused on health care and home care workers. We’ve achieved a minimum wage of $15/hour for every worker since 2016. We can’t pay a living wage unless we have a living rate. Americans have to understand that caring for seniors at home makes great fiscal sense, but we have to be prepared to pay that wage for the folks that do the work.”

John Sauer, President & CEO, LeadingAge Wisconsin
Most of us are in denial about the need for long term care -- for ourselves, for our parents, for our family members. If we put it out of our mind, we have no sense of urgency to invest in it, or moving wages for care workers. The pandemic has heightened public awareness of the importance of direct care workers. If we don’t look now at how we are spending money, and we don’t explicitly say, how will that money reach caregivers, we’ll have a system that doesn’t invest in caregivers.”

Haeyoung Yoon, Senior Policy Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance
“This pandemic has revealed that workers do not have safety nets. They live paycheck to paycheck, often with no health insurance. We must increase public investment and we have to value this work and understand its contribution to the community and to the economy.”

Press Materials

About LeadingAge:

We represent more than 5,000 aging-focused organizations that touch millions of lives every day. Alongside our members and 38 state partners, we address critical issues by blending applied research, advocacy, education, and community-building. We bring together the most inventive minds in our field to support older adults as they age wherever they call home. We make America a better place to grow old. For more information: www.leadingage.org.