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Elder Scare: Low Pay Afflicts America's Fastest-Growing Job

CBS MoneyWatch

The fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. is also among the lowest paid.

The aging of America's baby boomers has led to a surge in demand for home care workers to look after the nation's elderly, as well as the disabled and chronically ill. The work is as essential as it is poorly paid. Home health aides do everything from checking a client's vital signs and administering medications to looking after people's dietary needs and even operating life-sustaining equipment, such as ventilators.

"We're talking about the people caring for the most important relationships you have," said Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and author of 'The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.' "When you have a situation where the people we count on to take care of our families can't take care of their own, there is something fundamentally wrong." [...] 

Among the factors combining to keep a lid on pay, experts say: a large pool of low-skilled workers, most of whom are minority women; weak union representation; and federal laws that exclude home health personnel from the wage protections common in other professions.

"Perhaps the largest reason for aides' low wages is because care work, which makes up the majority of home health care aides' duties, has been traditionally undervalued in our society," said Robert Hiltonsmith, a policy analyst with Demos, a left-leaning think tank, in a 2014 report.