The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The White House is giving 2 million health-care workers a raise

Home health aide Maria Fernandez, left, pours cereal for Herminia Vega, 83, on Sept. 3. Fernandez performs household chores for Vega and her husband. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

There are just about 2 million Americans who work as home health aides, providing medical assistance to the elderly and disabled. Today, the Obama administration gave them a raise.

New regulations from the Department of Labor, out Tuesday, change federal minimum wage requirements to include home health workers, rather than exclude them, which has been the case for decades.

Since 1974, the minimum wage has had something called the "companionship exemption," which allows people who perform companionship roles – babysitting, for example – to be paid a wage lower than the the federal minimum.

For decades, home health aides existed in this companionship category and were exempted from federal minimum wage protections. The Department of Labor rule today moves them out of that exemption, meaning that they minimum wage standards now apply, as do overtime regulations, which require companies to pay time-and-a-half for any hours worked beyond a 40-hour work week.

Right now, the average wage for a home health worker is $9.70 an hour, which is above the minimum wage of $7.25, meaning that there is a significant number already earning above the wage threshold. For these workers, the overtime protections could be especially relevant.

The federal government estimates that 90 percent of home health workers are female and that 50 percent are minorities. As the population ages, the home health industry is expected to grow rapidly, expanding by 69 percent between 2010 and 2020.