It’s an announcement that won’t break the bank in terms of media coverage, but it is one of the most important presidential directives in years, and one that could change the lives of millions of Americans.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced on September 17th: “Fulfilling a promise by President Obama to ensure that direct care workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule today extending the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to most of the nation’s workers who provide essential home care assistance to elderly people and people with illnesses, injuries or disabilities. This change will result in nearly two million direct care workers — such as home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants — receiving the same basic protections already provided to most U.S. workers. It will also help guarantee that those who rely on the assistance of direct care workers have access to consistent and high-quality care from a stable and increasingly professional workforce.”
The rule was proposed by President Obama over two years ago and was met with fierce opposition from conservatives, industry and disability groups.
According to CNBC: “Home health care workers, who for years have been exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws because of a stipulation that classified them as similar to casual babysitters, will soon be eligible for fatter paychecks. The Labor Department announced this week that the nearly two million workers who provide in-home care for people who are elderly, sick or disabled will be subject to the Fair Labor Standard Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections start in January of 2015.”
In her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, the socialist-feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about the millions of Americans, who in her view, were the true benefactors of the American Economy. Her great philanthropists were not to be found in the foundations and trusts that raise millions of dollars in $10,000 per-head fundraising dinners and auctions. This is not to say that these occasions are not beneficial, only that they can create the illusion that it is only the super-rich who are in a position to benefit society:
“When someone works for less pay than she can live on … she has made a great sacrifice for you …. The “working poor” … are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.”
The largely invisible legions of Americans who perform these thankless tasks would no doubt prefer to be pursuing their own dreams. However, thanks to a welfare program where dogma overrules compassion, where any job (no matter how degrading or low-paying) is better than no job at all, they find themselves trapped in a cycle of low-pay and subsistence, which ironically makes them the unacknowledged backbone of America.
We’re glad President Obama stood up to the heartless GOP and gave relief to two million home care workers doing a very difficult job.