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News from EPI In-home Workers Are a Growing, and Marginalized, Sector of the Economy

In a new analysis, Low Wages and Scant Benefits Leave Many In-home Workers Unable to Make Ends Meet, EPI economist Heidi Shierholz examines the contours of the in-home worker industry and shows that this fast-growing sector is plagued by low pay and few benefits. In-home workers, such as maids, nannies, personal care aides, and home health aides, tend to work in the shadows, socially isolated and often without employment contracts, leaving them with little job security and vulnerable to exploitation.

“In-home workers, who are mostly female and largely women of color and immigrants, are a critical and growing part of the economy, yet they are grievously underpaid and lack the benefits that similar workers receive in other sectors,” said Shierholz. “Our country is wealthy enough so that workers who play such vital caretaking roles should be able to earn a decent wage. We need policies to protect these workers and help ensure they’re paid what they deserve.”

In-home workers have much lower hourly pay than similar workers, and are also less likely to get the hours that they need. They are very unlikely to have benefits such as health insurance and are much more likely to live in poverty. Importantly, many in-home jobs are explicitly excluded from the protections of federal labor and employment laws and standards such as the National Labor Relations Act.

Though individual employers of in-home workers can and should improve their employees’ wages and benefits, policymakers should extend the protections of employment and labor laws to in-home workers. Policies that improve job quality for low-wage workers in general, such as an increased minimum wage, mandated paid sick days, and a stronger social safety net, will boost the prospects of in-home workers. Additionally, fiscal policy to bring down unemployment would boost the wages and incomes of in-home workers alongside all Americans.

In addition to national data, the paper contains an appendix of state-level demographic data, available as a PDF.

Key findings of the paper include:

  • The median hourly wage for in-home workers is $10.21, compared with $17.55 for workers in other occupations. Even after accounting for demographic differences between in-home workers and workers in other occupations, in-home workers have wages nearly 25% lower than those of similar workers in other occupations.
  • Median annual earnings of in-home workers—at $12,252—are 62.7 percent below those of other workers.
  • Only 12.2 percent of in-home workers receive health insurance and only 7 percent are covered by a pension plan through their job.
  • Nearly a quarter of in-home workers live below the official poverty line, compared with 6.5 percent of workers in other occupations.
  • More than half of in-home workers live below twice the official poverty threshold—the metric commonly used by researchers as measure of what it actually takes for a family make ends meet.