Sharon Manuel works at a home for five intellectually disabled adult women, none of whom has learned to talk. She cooks, cleans and bathes them, and monitors their medications. She earns $9.85 per hour–not a lot in greater Chicago–and works two jobs to support her kids, including a 7-year-old with special health care needs. Her story was profiled in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune :
Illinois’ 28,000 direct care workers such as Ms. Manuel are generally paid through Medicaid, whose budget mechanics are largely invisible to voters. Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposed FY2009 budget once again includes no cost-of-living increase for these workers. Low pay and meager benefits are the shameful back story in the generally positive story of moving intellectually disabled people out of state institutions into the community. Starting salaries for direct care workers are typically a dollar or two above minimum wage. Not surprisingly, morale and turnover problems are huge.
Many of us trust Ms. Manuel and her peers to care for our loved ones. We hope that they approach these jobs as something more than a paycheck, especially because we can’t always be around to watch what they do. Yet we pay these men and women less than we pay many college students to brew skinny lattes at Starbucks. Somehow in a $2.1 trillion healthcare economy, people doing some of the hardest work are given the most meager rewards. Many could not afford to access the very services they provide. AFSME is now lobbying for a $0.50/hr raise and COLA provisions for these workers. This would cost Illinois $22.5 million next year. This is money well-spent.