According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two fastest-growing occupations in the country are Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides. BLS projects the need in these two careers will increase by 70% over the next few years. In real numbers, it’s estimated that we will have to add 2.8 million workers by 2020 to meet the growing need. The reasons are perhaps obvious; as our population ages, more and more of us will need assistance to function in our homes and communities.
From a state and federal budget standpoint, it makes sense for us to increase our efforts to provide recruitment and training in this critical area. For every year that an older person can remain at home, the savings to the taxpayer is significant. The cost of supporting individuals who have disabilities in the community is but a fraction of the cost of institutionalization. Home and community-based care are one of those rare win-win situations—in almost every case, it’s better for the individual, and it’s less expensive to the taxpayer.
So why, if this is such a critical need, don’t we see more of a focus on expanding the field of direct support? The main reason is that, in the job training and development arena, we tend to be drawn to those occupations that will offer folks the potential for higher earnings, or at the very least, a living wage. Providing care for individuals who have disabilities or for the elderly has historically not been among those occupations—people who provide these supports are notoriously underpaid and don’t receive the respect that such an important role deserves. This becomes a “chicken and egg” question. Are these jobs not respected because they don’t pay well, or do they not pay well because they aren’t highly respected?
Because the need is obvious, and because the shortage of trained and willing Home Health and Personal Care Aides is already reaching the critical point, it has never been more important that we focus our attention on developing and expanding the field. To meet the growing need for direct support workers, we must focus our efforts in two areas: First, we must create those recruitment and training programs to prepare a new wave of support professionals. Second, we must continue to lobby and fight for adequate wages for those who choose to enter the field. This is important, and we at the Arkansas Department of Career Education must take the lead in creating a new and well-trained workforce.