On Thursday, members of California’s service workers’ union met with presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Los Angeles to talk about long-term care issues.
A succession of home health caregivers and some recipients of that care told their stories to Clinton and they spoke generally about the changes needed in home care.
Sumer Spika, a caregiver from Minnesota, said when she first started, she entered a profession with low pay, no benefits, no retirement, no overtime and no paid time off.
“And I found myself standing in line at the grocery store, with an infant on my hip and a screaming toddler next to me, and needing to choose between toilet paper and laundry soap,” Spika said. “I don’t think anyone should have to make that choice.”
Home care workers are advocating for a $15 minimum wage, which would approach a living wage, they say. Lizabeth Bonilla said she has been a caregiver for 42 years, the last 23 of them in Nevada, where she made $10 an hour when she first came to Nevada 23 years ago — and, she said, she still makes the same $10 an hour.
“If I quit tomorrow, I’d have nothing to show for it,” Bonilla said. “Forty-two years of caregiving and I have nothing to show for it.”
Clinton said the issue is high on her agenda.
“The work you’re doing actually saves Medicaid money,” she said. “People do better when they get care at home. That’s good medicine.”
An estimated 19 million seniors need long-term care across the country, and that number is growing as the Baby Boomer population ages.
“If you think about the fact that we’re going to have more and more elderly in this country, we are going to face a care crisis,” Clinton said. “If we don’t think through that, I don’t know how we’re going to be able care for people. Our highest obligation we have is to take care of each other. At the end of the day, I don’t think anything matters more.”
Clinton said there were two specific policies she wants to move: “I am really adamant that we need paid family leave, and we need paid sick leave,” she said. In addition, Clinton said, “One of the things I’m trying to do in this campaign is put raising wages at the center.”
Higher wages was a central theme at Thursday’s forum in Los Angeles.
“Most of us will work till the day we die” said Susie Young, a caregiver from Washington state. “We cannot afford to stop our jobs.”
Young said a trained workforce is essential to a strong home care industry, and can help legitimize a job in the public realm, a job that’s often seen by outsiders as easy work.
“Our number one job is to lift care givers out of poverty, and we should do that first, to make sure care givers don’t live in poverty,” Young said. “To care for us while we care for others.”
“The business or political people who oppose your efforts should walk in your shoes for a day,” Clinton said. “People didn’t understand what you do or how hard you work. This movement to give dignity and respect, to give better pay and benefits and training, is one of the most important missions we should take on together.”