The vast majority of long-term care happens at home and in the community. Direct care workers such as home health aides and unpaid caregivers, usually family members, are the foundation of the long-term services and supports system. Unfortunately, caregiving – both paid and unpaid – has long been undervalued. The lack of supportive workplace policies and protections for caregivers undermines the economic security of those who provide care.

Four statewide trends create urgency in addressing workplace standards of both the direct care workforce and family caregivers: the state is rapidly aging; the availability of potential family caregivers is declining; low-wage jobs are on the rise; and state investments in crucial supports for North Carolina’s older adults and their caregivers are shrinking.

The direct care workforce is one of the lowest paid occupations in the state, with a median wage of $9.05 per hour for home health aides. The financial impact of family caregiving is also well documented. The majority of direct care workers and the majority of low-income workers in North Carolina – many of whom provide informal care – lack access to earned paid sick days.

In addition to adequately funding support services for elderly residents and their caregivers and assuring access to health care for all, policymakers have the opportunity to address the “care gap” in a responsible manner by creating good jobs. Increasing wages and benefits for direct-care workers – and all workers in low-wage industries – is a critical step in meeting the care gap. All caregivers need good jobs to provide quality care.