Black History Month is a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions that the black community has made and continues to make to society. If you find yourself on social media you might see posts recognizing black excellence in music, art, science, and the corporate world — and rightfully so. But what we don’t always see, is recognition of the contributions black people have made in our communities, our homes, and to the systems that impact our everyday lives. This month we want to recognize the hurdles that black caregivers have overcome, and the impact they’ve made on the homecare community.
Caregiving has long been a career primarily held by women, but more specifically, by black women. Within the healthcare field, black women are more likely than any other group to be employed in the long-term care setting. And their history in this field is one that has been impacted by racist legislation.
To understand this impact, we look back to 1938, the year the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted. This act established a nationwide minimum wage, overtime pay, and other vital protections for all working Americans. Well, all except homecare workers, certain domestic workers, and farmworkers. At this time, only 75 years after the end of the Civil War, most black women were unable to get jobs outside of the domestic services, so this law disproportionately affected them. And that was no accident, according to many scholars, the exclusions specified in this act were due to intentional discrimination against black people, and as a result, this law prevented many black women from receiving a livable wage.
Later, in 1974, some domestic workers and farmworkers were included in FLSA, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Home Care Rule went into effect and extended FLSA protections to homecare workers. Thanks to the hard work of many, for the first-time, homecare workers, a career significantly occupied by black women, was protected by labor laws.
At its heart, homecare enables people with disabilities and the elderly to stay in their communities, to be present in the lives of their neighbors, family, and those in their hometowns. People who receive care in the home can continue to enrich their communities, and that’s possible because of caregivers. About 702,000 of those caregivers who are making sacrifices, and working hard for our families, friends, and communities are black people, and mainly black women. Their commitment and dedication to their clients needs to be recognized for what it is, a selfless service that keeps those we love most safe and cared for.
The contribution black caregivers have made to this industry cannot be overstated, and this month it’s important that we recognize the history of black caregivers, what they have overcome, and all that they continue to do. And above all, we must continue to fight for fair labor laws within the homecare industry.
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