Caring for others runs in the Williams family. Danielle Williams, 52, and her daughter, Brittany, 35, have spent their entire adult lives caring for others: doing the unpaid labor of tending to family members and looking after elderly and disabled adults in their jobs as home care workers.
Their work days are largely similar. Both mother and daughter rise early and make a lengthy commute — up to one hour by car for Danielle and up to two hours by bus for Brittany. They make their clients’ meals. They shop for groceries and clothes, pick up medicine, run to the post office. They care for pets. They dress and undress, change diapers and give baths. They assist with medication. They dust, vacuum and do the laundry. They talk and listen to the stories of their clients’ lives, often for hours.
But the similarities end there. Brittany makes nearly $20 an hour, usually working five days a week. But without child care for her 8-year-old son during the pandemic, she’s been working no more than four. She has paid time off, medical and dental insurance, a retirement plan and many other benefits. Danielle works seven days a week making half Brittany’s wage. She has no benefits through her job, qualifies for Medicaid and is barely able to survive.
These differences come down to where Brittany and Danielle live. Brittany lives in Washington State and belongs to a union of long-term-care workers, S.E.I.U. Local 775, that has worked with the state for better pay and working conditions. Danielle lives in Arkansas, where she has none of that. Across the nation, this pattern repeats itself: Home care aides in states where the work force has unionized and won the right to collectively bargain with the state have living wages and benefits, while those in states without unions have lower wages and minimal benefits — if any at all.