While much of the attention to Proposition 206 has been directed toward restaurant and other service workers, there is a larger and more vulnerable population that will be significantly impacted by raising the minimum wage in Arizona –seniors and those who care for them.
As president of the Arizona In-Home Care Association (AZNHA) I represent an industry that has been hit hard in recent years by the Affordable Care Act and other federal legislation and unfunded mandates. Proposition 206 goes a step beyond in terms of its direct impact to our elderly and disabled population.
What many fail to see is that raising the minimum wage by 50 percent will also cause an increase in the cost of needed in-home care for seniors, disabled adults and even children
Currently the average cost in Arizona for in-home services ranges from $20-to-$24 per hour. If Prop. 206 passes, services most likely will exceed $30 per hour. For many older adults on a fixed income, and for financially strapped Baby Boomers taking care of their parents and their own families, this increase will be devastating.
When Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour it increased the cost of in-home care to nearly $35 per hour – putting these services out of the reach for many seniors.
As the cost of services increases and fewer people can afford to use in-home care, large and small in-home care providers throughout the state will be forced to cut back on hours and/or staffing. When this happens, the pool of skilled caregivers will choose to go into other industries that are paying similar wages (which also happened in Seattle).
The average non-medical caregiver in Arizona earns just above the current minimum wage, up to $12 per hour, depending on experience and training. While that may not seem like a large sum, it’s important to note that these individuals often use caregiving as an important stepping stone to other medical professions.
Even more concerning is the potential unintended consequences of Prop. 206: The emergence of an underground market that would place liability and risk on our most vulnerable community members. This could result in increased financial, physical, or even mental abuse by predators targeting seniors and disabled adults and children – a segment of our society already at risk.
As our senior population grows, the demand for skilled caregivers has been increasing dramatically. If the cost to employ skilled caregivers goes up while the pool of available workers shrinks, many in-home care agencies will be forced to meet demand by hiring workers who are less expensive but also less experienced, which could negatively impact overall quality of care.
Why we will ALL end up paying: There are currently 100,000 seniors and 30,000-plus disabled adults and children in Arizona requiring in-home care being covered under state programs that may be affected by Prop. 206. In addition, when some older adults not on state programs can no longer afford in-homes services they will most likely drop from private care and further strain our already burdened Medicaid system. The cost to Arizona taxpayers? Tens of millions of dollars.
Ask yourself this: Can Arizona seniors and their families afford Proposition 206?
Mark Young is president of the Arizona In-Home Care Association, CEO of ComForCare and host of “Aging in Arizona” on Patriot Radio.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.