Thursday, December 15, 2011

Here's How It's Done

Front page headline and story in today's USA Today: "Obama Proposes Overtime Initiative"

OK, before we get to the details remember, this story is on the front page of the paper, above the fold, where the reader is supposed to be able to assume at least something like honest and objective news reporting, not agenda setting or editorializing.

Now, the details from the piece:  It seems the Obama Administration's initiative is to make home care workers, that is, "companions for the elderly and people with disabilities", qualify for federal wage and overtime protections.  As we know, the nation's over-65 population is growing quickly and therefore the need for this type of care is increasing commensurately.  While most of these workers already make above the minimum hourly wage, they still only average somewhere between $17,000 - $20,000 per year, which is below the official poverty line and thereby qualifies them for some form of public assistance.  About 40% rely on benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.  More than 90% of them are women and almost 50% of those are minorities.  The current exemption from federal protection began in 1974.  Clinton tried to change the law by lifting the exemption as well, but George Bush reversed his efforts.

Save for a brief comment from the vice president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice which opposes the change in the law because it will lead to higher costs, no further analysis is offered.  The reasons for the exemption in the first place are not highlighted, nor those for Bush's reversal of Clinton's efforts.

At best this is sloppy reporting.  But it's more than that and we know it.

Without expending any effort at all on tediously and laboriously chasing down facts, with no more than just pausing and thinking about it for a couple minutes, I came up with this list of questions and qualifiers that had they been addressed, the story would have been much better, if not to say more honest:

One, are words like "poverty", "women", and "minorities" employed to tug at our heart strings and encourage a sense of guilt?

Two, is, as I suspect it is, this for the most part relatively unskilled labor, or at least labor that is quickly and cheaply trained, which would explain why the hourly wages are relatively low?

Three, is this for many of the workers an entry-level job as well?  That is, as they are able, as their experience grows and as their talent, coupled with hard work, allows, can we expect a good portion of them to move onward and upward?  Do we want to deny them this opportunity by making their labor more expensive, too expensive to hire in the first place?

Four, could it be that the annual wage is low because for most of the workers it's a part time job, and one they wish to keep part time?  As the lion's share of the workers are female, the job is likely a supplement to a family income that includes their husband's which combined is well above the official poverty line.  (I'm switching from posing questions to making statements.  Got tired of phrasing it the other way because I'm pretty sure I know the answer.)

Five, insofar as they qualify for or receive public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps, they actually make more than their salaries alone would indicate.  Money you don't have to spend on health care and food is money that remains in your pocket.  That is, they are already being taken care of by the rest of us.

Six, removing the exemption will by definition raise the cost of the care which will, because it has to, be passed on to the consumer.

Seven, the consumers, i.e., the elderly and infirm (a heart string that was conveniently not played in the piece), who for the most part subside on fixed incomes themselves, will find affording the care more and more difficult, if not impossible. 

Eight, or, if it is still possible, it will be because a "black market" in home care work will develop, a market that, by definition, is unregulated altogether, save by the market itself. (Which, frankly, is regulation enough for me.)

Nine, a black market will encourage even more illegal immigration in order to supply the workers who will do the work Americans, in this case, if the exemption is lifted, cannot do.  If you're going to go around the law, you may as well go all the way around it.

Ten, if it still remains impossible because it's unaffordable, it will drive more and more people to support and even demand government-provided home that free government-provided home care, which is the way the Democrats will sell it, and thereby purchase more votes as well.
Eleven, now that I think about it, that last point is really the whole point, ain't it?

It took me more time to type this than it did to think it up.  (But then I'm a slow typer, two-fingered, hunt-and-pecker.  No lame jokes, please.)

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