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September 2007, Vol. 130, No. 9
Caring for America’s aging population: a profile of the direct-care workforce
Kristin Smith and Reagan Baughman
Between 1970 and 2004, the labor force participation of American women rose from 43.3 percent to 59.2 percent,1 and one of the consequences was the development of a category of workers paid to provide care for children and the elderly who had previously been cared for in the home. Over the same period, the life expectancy of men grew by 8.1 years and the life expectancy of women rose by 5.7 years,2 trends that increased the demand for both medical and personal care for the elderly. In 1999, 16 percent of Americans over the age of 65 required some form of long-term care, and the majority received that care in home- or community-based settings rather than in nursing homes.3
Today, direct-care workers provide the majority of paid hands-on care, supervision, and emotional support to the elderly and disabled in the United States. These paraprofessional workers hold a variety of job titles, including personal care assistant, home care aide, home health aide, and certified nursing assistant. They work in diverse settings, such as private homes, adult day centers, assisted-living residences, hospitals, and nursing homes. Depending upon their job title and the setting, a direct-care worker’s tasks may include providing medical oversight, administering medications, and measuring vital signs; assisting with personal care activities, such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and eating; providing comfort and companionship; and shopping, preparing meals, and cleaning the house.4
This excerpt is from an article published in the September 2007 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007, 126th edition (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006); on the Internet at www.census.gov/compendia/statab (visited Sept. 25, 2007).
3 Green Book (U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 2004).
4 Bernadette Wright, "Direct Care Workers in Long-Term Care" (Washington, DC, AARP Public Policy Institute, 2005).
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