In elder care, jobs jump but pay stays low

In the health care universe, doctors earn the most — and that’s fine. I’m  happy to pay the men and women who keep us healthy and have the brains and training to help us when we’re ill.

But what about the people who take care of our aging parents and, eventually, us?  The pay is not great — startlingly so.

Here are the average Minnesota salaries by health care category.

Josh Wright with the economic research group EMSI produced this data after a Twitter and email conversation between us and Ron Wirtz with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Our original discussion focused on how health care jobs had saved Minnesota in the recession and had become the saving grace in the recovery — the main reason Minnesota was doing so well compared to Wisconsin.

But when I looked at the average salary data Wright produced for those job categories, I was stunned. Nearly all the lowest paying jobs in health care are connected to aiding the elderly and vulnerable outside of hospitals.

Yes, these are jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree but we’re talking not much more than fast-food restaurant pay.

If you’re making career choices, you’d make a lot more money as a Metro Transit bus driver than, say, working in a nursing care or residential care facility.

Wright writes:

For example, 54 percent of the continuing care and retirement communities industry in Minnesota consists of workers in three occupations — home health aides, nursing aides, or personal care aides — and wages in these fields are between $11-13 per hour.

Wages are so low for these workers because, among other things, the barrier to entry and required skill level are low, and there are so many available workers in these fields.

He also notes that “many of the jobs in those industries require on-the-job training or a post-secondary award.”

Nursing home workers did get a boost from the Legislature last session. But advocates say there’s still a need to raise wages for people who provide direct services to elderly and disabled people.

Note: It’s always a challenge dealing with Census data. There are so many job categories and trying to describe just the health care categories would make this post way too long. Here are links to the key category descriptions we’re talking about: nursing care facilities and continuing care retirement communities.