The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Maryland home-care workers:
Vital work, terrible pay

May 2, 2005

The Maryland legislature voted to increase the pay of home care workers in the state's Medicaid program by 10%. The Baltimore Sun and the City Paper called it a "hefty pay increase!"

Hefty? It brought their pay to only $5.50 an hour – just above the minimum wage. And they were still left without any benefits.

Home care providers should have a real hefty increase. In Maryland, 3,000 of them clean, cook, bathe and do errands for poor people who are disabled, have chronic health problems, dementia or are just too old to take care of themselves completely. Their regular home visits make it possible for their clients to stay out of nursing homes.

Nevertheless, their pitifully low pay has left most of these thousands of home care workers in poverty themselves. The state has skirted the minimum wage laws by hiring them as "independent contractors."

In the last year, about 100 home care providers have stirred things up a little, speaking out publicly, making their demands known, and participating in a couple of demonstrations organized by AFSCME at the headquarters of the State Health Department in Baltimore.

Maybe these activities exposing the pitifully low pay embarrassed the state legislators. In any case, if these women can build on the spirit and initiative they took this year, they can do more than just shame the legislators. They can force them to come up with the money needed for a decent income.