There has been a lot of discussion in Missoula and throughout Montana this year about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all low-wage workers. It ‘s a great idea that I fully support, especially for home care workers like me. But raising minimum wage is only part of the story.
I have been a home caregiver for 30 years. I work for three different care giving agencies right now. One pays me $10 an hour, the other two pay me $11 an hour.
I love my clients and the work is rewarding. I have shared so many memories with so many families during the years.
But, it’s also hard work and it’s very fast-paced. When I arrive at a home, I usually help my client shower and dress, I do the laundry, maybe change the bedding, cook a meal and take the client to doctor appointments or do grocery shopping.
I work 70 hours a week, trying to make enough money to live and keep a roof over my head. Four days of the week I work 12 hours shifts, then I work a 24-hour shift.
I’ve had as many as 11 clients at a time, and that means a lot of driving around. I need a reliable car, which also means car payments, and full insurance coverage so I can take clients to their medical appointments.
This is the part of the story that I think is overlooked. Workers making less than a living wage aren’t just working one job, we are working several, piecing together enough hours at low pay to hopefully make ends meet.
Home care agencies often assign us 20 or 30 hours a week. If a client goes to the hospital, or if they pass away, we can lose hours for a while until we are assigned a new client. And that means losing pay.
Even with my 70-hour work weeks, every month it’s nip and tuck whether I will have enough to cover my bills.
As it turns out, my story isn’t unusual. According to a new report from the Alliance for a Just Society, the living wage in Montana is $14.36 an hour for a worker just trying to support herself. At our state minimum wage of $8.05, a worker has to put in more than 71 hours a week to make ends meet.
A parent supporting a child in elementary school has to be paid $20.66 an hour to make enough to get by. I can’t even imagine how many hours a week that would translate to at minimum wage.
I have very little left over at the end of the month for clothes, a little gift for my grandchildren, or to put away savings in case of an emergency – something like a car repair or reduced hours.
Home care workers, who help people stay in their homes and live with dignity, deserve a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
I know it would let me work fewer hours, and I could spend more time with my grandchildren.