Tracy has built a career helping others, but she feels like she’s taken a vow of poverty.

When Tracy Dudzinski got her start in care work shortly after high school, she had no idea what she was getting into.

Tracy grew up in a small town in central Wisconsin. She married her high school sweetheart after graduating, and they started to build their lives together. But when a disability left him unable to work, Tracy's path changed; she needed to bring in some extra money.

A nursing home in town was offering free certified nursing assistant classes, so she signed up. Tracy didn’t really understand what care work involved. She figured it couldn’t be much harder than babysitting, so she jumped right in.


The reality shocked her.

Image via Tracy Dudzinsky, used with permission. ‌‌

You see, care work is definitely not babysitting. It’s much more than that.  

Care workers are challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally. They monitor medication use for their patients, some of whom may suffer from illnesses like dementia. They assist with bathing, grooming, and other personal care. They prepare meals. They assist with housekeeping and so much more.

The people receiving care are dependent on their caregivers, and the caregivers are very aware of the responsibility that comes with that type of dependency. They don’t want to let anyone down.

But in so many ways, caregivers are being let down by the system.

Since care work doesn’t require a college degree, it's considered entry-level, so workers scrape by on extremely low salaries. With an average hourly wage of $9.25, Tracy says that many caregivers can’t even afford their own health care costs — even though their job involves caring for the health of others.

"They always say 'caregivers are a special kind of people,'" Tracy said. "Because people know that if you’re really, truly a caregiver, you’re going to take care of people no matter what. So you kind of get taken advantage of."

‌Image via CQC Press Office/Flickr. ‌

She continued:

"I missed a lot of my kids' high school sports activities. I actually left my son's graduation party because they called me, and the person I was helping needed service — someone had called in ... because if I don’t do it or my company doesn’t help take care of people, what will happen to them? ... It’s the right thing to do. But even though it’s the right thing to do, we’re not respected. We’re not paid what we’re worth ... it’s almost like you take a vow of poverty."

Still, Tracy shows up for work every day because she feels an obligation to help. Because she knows the work she does isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It saves lives.

So why is this the state of affairs? Well, it's complicated.

Home care workers care for older individuals and individuals with disabilities, many of whom cannot afford the care they need. They rely on government assistance like Medicaid to cover the cost of their care. But here's the thing: What the government pays for home care isn't enough. And it hasn't been for a long time.

Home care workers have been devalued since President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, when a block of congressmen refused to allow the deal to pass until certain job protections were removed. These job protections would have included basic rights, such as wage and overtime protections for domestic roles — roles that were primarily filled by black women. Not much changed until recently, when the Fair Labor Standards Act made improvements that require agencies to pay home care workers minimum wage and overtime. But there is still more work to be done.

The reimbursement rate — the amount the state actually pays to home care providers on behalf of individuals — has to increase. If it doesn't, home care — the people who need it and the people who deliver it — will continue to suffer. Home care workers will continue to struggle to care for their own families, and we'll fail to make home care work an appealing job, even as the need for home care workers rises.

Image via Geralt/Pixabay.

Awareness of this problem is the first step toward a solution.

Tracy points out that "there’s a lot more to this line of work that the public doesn’t know unless someone they love is receiving service."  And even then, a lot of people receiving home care aren't aware of how little the caregivers make and the struggles they face.

So for now, workers have taken it upon themselves to demand fair wages. They show up to work each day and they organize on the side, joining groups such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance. They go to meetings and they learn to speak up for themselves because if no one knows their stories, nothing will ever change.

And there are steps being made in the right direction. Businesses like Cooperative Care — where Tracy now works as an administrative coordinator and caregiver — are trying to take initiative and shake up the industry. Cooperative Care is employee-owned. In many ways, this means they operate like their own union, looking out for the best interests of the workers while being mindful of very real business needs. And their workers are able to make $30,500 per year — which is 30% to 50% above the industry median. It’s still not enough, but it’s a start. Their model works; they're just limited by the state's reimbursement rate.

That’s why The Fight for $15 is so important.

It’s shining a spotlight on this issue, showing its complexity. Because the fight for a livable minimum wage has never been a simple one.

The state reimbursement rate has to be raised to make that much-needed salary hike a reality. And cutting back on staff isn’t an option: As the large baby boomer population ages, the demand for home care work rises. In North Carolina, the percent of the population age 65 and older is expected to grow to 2.8 million by 2050, up from 1.3 million in 2012. And that's just one state.

So, the demand is there and the need is clear, but the salary requires a sacrifice that shouldn’t be asked of these workers. Care work providers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and they're hoping that as their voices are heard, the barriers will fall away.

Tracy says her daughter has chosen to enter the industry in spite of her cautions.

She’s seen the reality, seen her mother’s struggles, and still, she wants to help. There are people, like Tracy and her daughter, who will continue to answer the call to help, which makes it even more important that we make sure their voices are heard. They devote their lives to helping others and are only fighting for the ability to support themselves. No more, no less.

Change is around the corner. The Fair Labor Standards Act was recently revised to include caregivers. More co-ops like Cooperative Care are being formed. The tide is turning, slowly. But more is needed.

More
True
SEIU
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's