Home Care Workers See No Way Out

By The News May 25, 2007

We’ll have to just forgive the New York Times for its bad headlining of this one. Because "For New York, Big Job Growth," is a revealing story about New York’s demand on home care service jobs and the trap of bare-wage and fringe benefits these workers are caught in–not New York’s expanding job market. While cities like New York report job growth and boast low unemployment, it usually means that more semi-skilled laborers are working below the poverty line for more jobs that provide a phantom security. The New York Times reported:

New York City’s economy has been booming, with unemployment dropping to historic lows and Wall Street getting most of the credit. But the typical new worker in the city is not a pinstriped investment banker or a corporate lawyer. She is a home health aide like Vivienne P. Smith. Ms. Smith, a recent immigrant from Jamaica, cooks for and dresses elderly patients in their Brooklyn homes. Though she is a member of a large labor union, she earns just $7.50 an hour and receives no health insurance or other benefits. In many ways, home-care aides are the garment workers of the modern New York economy. The working conditions may be better, but the low pay, skimpy benefits and weak prospects for upward mobility tend to draw mostly immigrant women with few marketable skills. Jobs like Ms. Smith’s, poor-paying positions in health care and social services, have accounted for most of the growth in employment in the city in the last 15 years. Indeed, without the rapid health care growth, the number of jobs in the city would have declined since 1990, according to figures compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The health care and social assistance sector, which includes not only hospitals, nursing homes and doctor’s offices, but also day care centers and food banks, accounts for a growing share of jobs across the country — about 13 percent of all American jobs in 2005. But that is still a far smaller share than in some parts of New York City. In Brooklyn and the Bronx, the sector now supplies about one-third of all private-sector jobs and wages, more than double the contribution of any other industry, the bureau’s data show. “In terms of wages, the driving force in the New York City economy has been Wall Street,” said Michael Dolfman, the regional commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “But in terms of employment, the driving force in the city economy has been the health care and social assistance sector.” … Ms. Smith, 55, said she would not be able to survive on her meager pay if she were not living with relatives. She started out working full weeks and even some overtime. But lately, her employer, Partners in Care, a subsidiary of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, has assigned her just one four-hour shift per day, she said. That amounts to just $30 a day, before taxes and the cost of her two-bus commute across Brooklyn.

You call that job growth?