I’ve been a home care worker for the past 15 years, and this is more than a job for me. It’s a calling to help seniors and people with disabilities. But even though my work is essential, I’m struggling to survive and pay my bills because my wages are so low. That’s why I’m passionately supporting President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, and a state bill called the Nevada Home Care Workforce Safety and Standards Act. These two crucial pieces of legislation would ensure a better future for our state’s rapidly aging population — and for those of us who provide care.
Home care work is deeply fulfilling, and every day I feel like I'm giving back. Right now I have four clients, and I support all their daily activities that allow them to live at home with dignity and maximum independence. I help them with bathing, feeding, picking up prescriptions, grocery shopping and making sure they take their medications on time. I also strive to support my clients’ mental and emotional well-being, because I’m often the only companion in their lives. Home care has always been essential, but during the pandemic our work has become a critical life line for keeping seniors and people with disabilities safe and feeling connected.
Despite our important roles, home care workers in Nevada and across our country are extremely underpaid and exploited. For most of my career I’ve made around $10 an hour, and only recently got up to $13. It’s ironic that I provide care for others, but I have no health care insurance or paid sick days through my employer, which has been really scary during the pandemic. I’ve had to pay hundreds of dollars out of my own pocket for masks, gloves and sanitizer to protect myself, my clients and my family. And over the years, I’ve sometimes been faced with the gut-wrenching choice of going to work sick or staying home without a paycheck and having my lights shut off or getting evicted.
The home care workforce has been shamefully undervalued for far too long, because the majority of us are women — and women of color. As a Black woman, I’m acutely aware of how our jobs are viewed as “women’s work” and how systemic racism has held down funding for home care services, kept our wages low and written us out of basic worker protections.
Low wages have made it very difficult for seniors to find qualified home care providers. In the last decade, Nevada’s retirement-age population grew by 46 percent, and we now have more than half a million residents over the age of 65. That’s created skyrocketing demand for care and a severe workforce shortage.
This care crisis is why I’m uniting with other home care workers to demand that we are respected, protected and paid for our essential work. Finally, elected officials at both the state and federal level have started to listen.
State legislators have introduced the Nevada Home Care Workforce Safety and Standards Act (Senate Bill 340) which would give workers and clients a seat at the table and create greater transparency to improve the quality of services. Among other protections, SB340 would empower home care workers to petition the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate our working conditions; create a Nevada Home Care Employment Standards Board made up of workers, consumers, employers and state officials to propose improvements; and allow that board to make recommendations around pressing issues such as ensuring living wages, benefits and job training for workers to raise standards of care.
This legislation is critical, because providing quality care in clients’ homes is not only better for their well-being and safety, but it also saves Nevada taxpayers money. The state estimates an average per capita savings of over $70,000 a year when a senior receives care at home rather than in a nursing home.
At the federal level, President Biden’s American Jobs Plan would invest $400 billion in our nation’s care infrastructure, expanding home and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities while creating up to a million new home care jobs. The plan recognizes how essential home care workers are by making sure we have good union jobs that pay a living wage, provide health care and paid sick leave, and include real training opportunities. It would also be a major boost for Nevada’s economy overall by putting people back to work, including family members--mostly women--who left paying jobs due to care needs.
I urge all our lawmakers, including the state Senate and Assembly, our congressional representatives and U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, to remember that every one of you — or an aging parent, spouse, or close friend — will need long term care at some point. We all should have access to quality, affordable care in the setting of our choice when that day comes. It’s time to get behind the American Jobs Plan and pass the Nevada Home Care Workforce Safety and Standards Act, so our state’s seniors, people with disabilities and working families get the urgent support we need.
Tracey Richards has been a home care worker in Las Vegas for the past 15 years and is a leader in the state’s healthcare and public services union, SEIU Nevada Local 1107.