When Kathryn Sobilo first considered becoming a home care aide, she was told the work included light housekeeping, assisting patients in getting dressed, running errands, shopping, and helping to prepare meals. "I thought, well, that would be an easy thing to do," Sobilo (pictured below) told AOL Jobs.
What she didn't realize is how much time she would spend tending to incontinent adults. "I've changed a lot of adult diapers," she said, "and that's not fun." Though the job provides flexibility, allowing her to choose how many patients she wants to take on, it doesn't pay well -- just $8 an hour, the state minimum wage in California.
Driven largely by the aging baby boom generation, the field is growing -- and projected to explode. The BLS forecasts the demand for home health aides to surge 70 percent, or by more than 1.3 million jobs, by 2020. Job requirements are minimal -- not even a high school degree is required, though some on-the-job training may be involved. But the work usually offers low pay.
The number of hours that Sobilo works each week depends on the patient, and the extent of his or her disability. Some clients require only a few hours of assistance a week, while others require full-time care. It's possible to work a full 40-hour week, equal to an annual salary of $16,640, but Sobilo isn't eligible for overtime pay. That's because federal law that mandates time-and-a-half pay for hours worked beyond 40 doesn't extend to in-home care workers.
Low pay isn't the only drawback. Sobilo has no health or retirement plan and isn't paid for holidays or vacation. "I can't afford to retire. I can't afford to get hurt or sick or anything," says Sobile, a member of a union bargaining team that wants to boost workers' wages to $9.50 a hour during the next two years. Last month, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors denied the request, saying it couldn't have come at worse time, given California's massive budget woes.
Sobilo and the more than 1,400 other workers like her in the county earn less than the median wage for home care aides nationwide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home care aides earned a median $9.70 an hour in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, equal to an annual salary of $20,170.
In addition to aiding patients in their personal care and performing household chores, home health aides in some states give clients medication or check their vital signs, under the direction of a nurse or other health care provider.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some 2.5 million people work as in-home care workers -- about 90 percent of them are women, and many are minorities or recent immigrants. Because of low pay, about 40 percent of such workers depend on public assistance, such as Medicaid and food stamps, the agency says.
Despite the downsides, Sobilo says the job can be rewarding. "I get to know these people, and I feel like their family almost," she says. "I want to care for them they way I would want someone to care for me."
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