The demand for caregiving jobs continues to rise but caregiving pay remains below average. One of the main reasons caregivers are paid so little is because of the lack of respect for their profession.

Racism and discrimination also play a role in how caregivers are treated. While underappreciated, care professionals are needed more than ever. Without them, millions of elderly and sick people will be left unattended and vulnerable.

In this article, we discuss some of the root causes of why caregivers are underpaid and what we all can do to help advocate for caregivers.

The Realities of Caregiver Pay: A Closer Look at the Numbers

If you are wondering how much caregivers are paid, you’d be disappointed to know that they are not compensated very well for the stressful work that they do. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average hourly wage for home healthcare workers is around $13.81.

This is roughly half the average hourly wage of workers in the US. The minimum standard rate for today’s labor market should be at least $15 per hour. But, this is still not enough to support a family, as living costs have increased greatly.

Why Caregivers Are Often Underpaid for Their Vital Work

Why are caregivers underpaid? There are several factors that affect the wages of caregivers. Because care workers are often from marginalized sectors, they are often paid differently.

Caregivers are mostly women and disproportionately Black, Hispanic, and Asian. These factors make it a lot harder to demand higher wages, as minorities are typically paid less.

The pandemic has also greatly affected labor trends. Millions of employees, including professional caregivers and home health aides, have joined The Great Resignation – an ongoing trend of employees quitting their jobs.

Wage stagnation, hostile work environments, lack of benefits, and job dissatisfaction have been some of the primary reasons why employees are voluntarily leaving their jobs.

The Effects of Low Pay on Caregivers and the People They Care For

Because of low wages, few benefits, and little-to-no overtime opportunities, caregivers have been seeking new employment opportunities. According to the Home Care Association of America, the home care caregiver turnover rate has climbed up to 65.2% in 2020.

The ongoing unfair treatment and underpayment issues have resulted in a caregiver shortage. Many home care agencies, hospitals, and long-term care settings are understaffed throughout the US.

This has become a critical problem as the need for care providers is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade.

Wage underpayment also has a profound effect on a caregiver’s job performance. When the caregiver’s basic needs are not met, they will not be able to provide the best care for the client or resident in their charge.

This results in increased strain on caregivers, resentment, and potential health risks for their care recipients.

Examining the Root Causes of Caregiver Underpayment

Caregivers are an important component in caring for older adults but they remain underpaid because they are largely undervalued by society. This is deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Particularly, women of color face discrimination in the labor market, despite their share in the workforce.

American society historically undervalues caring for the elderly. Because of the lack of support and understanding around professional caregivers, this job is not viewed as important as other professions in the medical industry.

Private home care agencies also have a hand in care workers’ low wages. While a lot of agencies have thrived in the past years, most of their revenue goes into business overhead fees, leaving little to their employees.

Generally, home care agencies pay about half of the hourly rate they charge to the caregivers themselves. These caregivers are transporting themselves to clients’ homes, are not guaranteed their hours, and most likely have a second job to make ends meet.

Possible Solutions to the Problem of Underpaid Caregivers

While this complex problem may require restructuring labor laws, as well as a change in society’s views of care providers, it is not impossible to improve the situation of underpaid caregivers.

  • Affordable housing models for caregivers would drastically help care workers. With affordable housing accessible, caregivers will be less likely to move into less-expensive areas and have more take-home pay.
  • Childcare support could also be provided along with housing. When caregivers’ children are given a supportive program, carers will not have to worry about childcare. We recognize the issue of finding adequate caregivers for children is another pressing issue that needs to be addressed.
  • The societal mindset about caregiving needs to change. Educating people about the importance and value of being a care worker will help elevate the profession.
  • As many caregivers are immigrants, it would be helpful to address immigration laws. Changes in immigration have a direct impact on the supply of people willing to work as caregivers in the US.

Advocating for Fair Pay and Better Working Conditions for Caregivers

Whether you are an employer or a caregiver, you can advocate for fair pay and better working conditions for healthcare workers, especially caregivers.

Implementing these proactive steps could help improve the caregiver shortage crisis, but will also benefit the patients who rely on their care.

Here are some actionable steps employers can take to advocate for caregivers:

  • Follow best practices and treat your employees fairly.
  • Adopt flexible work policies that help your workers achieve a healthy work-life balance.
  • Offer training programs that allow them to continue improving their skills and techniques.
  • Provide equal and fair compensation for all your employees and ensure everyone has equal opportunities, regardless of gender.
  • Offer caregiver support to prevent burnout and ensure job satisfaction.

What you can do if you are a caregiver:

  • Demand fair wages and flexible work schedules.
  • Always review employment policies or contracts to ensure appropriate policies.
  • Report violations, discrimination, or dangerous working conditions to the proper local and state agencies.

In Summary

Caregivers are indispensable members of our society. While their work is crucial and difficult, they remain undervalued and underpaid. Discrimination and lack of respect for the caregiving profession are just some of the reasons why care worker wages remain low.

Without necessary support and fair compensation, these vital health workers will continue to quit their jobs, and our society will suffer further from the caregiver shortage crisis.

Caregiver Underpayment Frequently Asked Questions

Why is caregiver pay often considered inadequate?

The work caregivers do is far more valuable than what they get paid for. The stress that comes with the job takes a toll physically, mentally, and psychologically. Unfortunately, their wages don’t reflect the importance of their job and are often far below other jobs available.

Are all caregivers underpaid, or just some?

Not all caregivers are underpaid. There are some who are fairly compensated by home care agencies or private families they work for. However, the average hourly rate for caregivers is still not as high as other jobs, especially in the medical workforce.

What are the effects of low pay on caregivers and the people they care for?

Low pay can cause job dissatisfaction, which often results in poor job performance. Caregivers who are not happy with their work may become resentful and express their anger toward their patients.

What are the reasons why caregivers are underpaid?

Discrimination, racism, and lack of respect for the profession are just some of the root causes of caregiver underpayment. Because most care workers are women and persons of color, they are often mistreated and compensated less than their male counterparts.

Is there a caregiver shortage?

Yes, there is a caregiver shortage. Many states are feeling the effects of a caregiver shortage because of the high attrition rate in the healthcare industry and the increasing need for caregivers. As demands are expected to rise, the gap will widen if workers remain underpaid.

An expert in senior care, Amie has professional and personal experience in senior housing, caregiving, end-of-life care, and more from her 24 years of working with older adults.