In the Arena

Home Health Care Worker Pay Outrage!

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I like David Frum. I think he’s a smart and honorable guy, who refuses to walk in lockstep with the conservative movement–but he’s still a conservative, and there is a reflexive difference between the way he and I look at the world. Today, he criticizes the Obama Administration for intervening in California’s budget reduction travails on behalf of the home health care workers, who were being ordered to take a $2 per hour pay cut. His objection is federalist: the national government shouldn’t intervene in state matters (he also argues, on firmer ground, I think, against the Chrysler bailout–although the United Auto Workers have agreed to take the monumental risk of owning a company likely to fail).

But back to the home health care workers. Where Frum sees this as an abstract matter of federalism, I think about the workers themselves: they make a staggering $10-12 per hour! They do very difficult, thankless work. And, by doing so, they save enormous amount of money that would otherwise be spent putting the elderly into nursing facilities….And those $2 are the purest form of stimulus–these are people who will spend every penny in order to try to make ends meet. And they did have a contract. 

So, a difference of opinion: Frum believes the country is stronger when the federal government doesn’t overreach. I believe the country is stronger when the working poor are paid a living wage. I’m sure the federal government can overreach, and that would be a bad thing. But this is a good thing. It is the government being not just humane, but wise about health care savings priorities.

Anticipating the Commenters: No doubt, some of you will see inconsistency in my support for the home health workers and my criticism of the teachers’ unions. But there isn’t any: I support higher pay for both. With the teachers, I support as high a base-level of pay as possible and merit pay for those who are brilliant at their calling. What I oppose is the teachers’ ability to impose work rules that constrict creativity.