This is not my usual blog about Boo Bear, but a blog about being a PCA and getting paid a decent wage. The two things are not always compatible. Every May I sit down with my financial advisor and she helps me work out a budget for the year. Every year I tell her the most important thing is making sure that my employees get paid a decent wage. This year, all of them will be receiving at least $17 an hour. Because I get less than 30 hours a week from the state, and I have several PCAs, no one is working full time. Most of my PCAs pick up 2 to 4 shifts a week and are happy for the extra spending money. Boo is happy to hang out with them. It is a win- win situation.
Our beloved PCA, A, just graduated from college. She has made it clear that she wants to continue working with Boo in the evenings and is hoping to find a full time day job. One of the places that she interviewed was ARC homes, group homes for adults with developmental disabilities. She picked this place to interview because she wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of others. To say she came away from the interview underwhelmed and disgusted would be an understatement. ARC wanted to hire her immediately, but their wage offer was pathetic. For the first 60 hours of hire, an employee of ARC homes earns $9.86 an hour. After that, their pay goes up to $11 an hour. Workers who take a weekend shift make $12.81 an hour. Those who work nights but get to sleep earn $9.86 an hour. Those who work nights and stay awake make $15 an hour. There is no way someone could work 40 hours and week and survive on these wages. Even more horrifying is the fact that ARC homes hires staff as young as 16 years old. My son, and the members of that group home, have complex medical needs. I cannot fathom leaving his care to someone who just barely got their drivers license. Those who live in these homes are the most vulnerable members of society, yet we as a society are only willing to pay their care takers a pittance of a wage. While ZipRecruiter sees hourly wages for PCAs as high as $18.03, and as low as $7.45, the majority of PCA wages currently range between $10 (25th percentile) to $13 (75th percentile) across the United States.
I had these numbers running through my head as I walked into Target today. They had signs up advertising that they were hiring, starting at $13 an hour. Last year Target made the news for bumping their minimum pay up to $12 an hour and said their goal was to pay $15 an hour by the year 2020. Interestingly, with this increase in wages, they found as a company that morale went up and staff turnover went down. What a novel concept! Treat your employees well, pay them a decent wage and give them opportunities for advancement. I will note that ARC claims they have opportunities to advance, but few people do. No one can work that long on such low wages and survive. Therefore, group homes like ARC are chronically understaffed and the turnover rate is sky high. It is a recipe for instant burnout.
If this sounds bad enough, the story takes an even more sinister tone. I interviewed a PCA who asked to remain anonymous. She was working for a family of a high needs child for $10 an hour while going to college full time. Though she was working almost every hour she was not in school, she could not make ends meet. She could not find anyone to co-sign her student loan so she was forced to go into prostitution to make ends meet. I can’t decide which is more tragic, that PCAs are so grossly underpaid, or that colleges can charge such exorbitant rates that their students have to sell their bodies (or their plasma) in order to make enough money for tuition. Truly, this game is rigged in favor of the wealthy. No one should have to sell their body to make money for tuition, and no one should put their health and safety on the line working with a high needs client for $10 an hour. The entire scenario is heartbreaking.
So, what is a parent to do? Choose the company that does your payroll with care. If they refuse to pay PCAs more than $13 an hour, find a different company. Write to your representatives in Congress. Write multiple letters. Tell them that the wages of PCAs need to be lifted and the cost of a 4 year degree must be slashed. As for my PCAs, I shall pick them with care, pay them a socially just wage and make them a part of my family for as long as they wish to take good care of my son. I refuse to put my son into an environment where substandard care is the norm. He can live with me and his dad for as long as he wishes. If he ever does wish to move out, I will follow the example of his cousin Janet who bought an apartment for her special needs daughter and her best friend and has it staffed around the clock by competent caregivers. I refuse to settle for second best for my son. If you like this story and want to add momentum to this movement of social justice, please retweet, like and share, or better yet, do all of the above and write your representatives in congress. In the meantime, to quote A, ” Be good humans.” Everyone has some sort of battle they are waging. Be kind to others who are in the thick of the fight. It is a perilous road out there, we have to stick together.