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Will the Direct Care Workforce Momentum in New Jersey Continue?

By Robert Espinoza | June 28, 2021

New Jersey’s direct care workforce is critical to the state’s long-term services and supports sector, ensuring that older adults and people with disabilities can live and thrive in their homes and communities and across congregate settings.

Yet as the COVID-19 crisis has reinforced, these workers remain undervalued and inadequately supported—and their jobs remain poor in quality. For example, New Jersey’s direct care workers earn a median hourly wage of $13.36 and 40 percent live in or near poverty. Because of poor job conditions, direct care workers are increasingly leaving long-term care for other sectors (such as fast food and retail), which profoundly affects the individuals who rely on their support.

Did you know? PHI’s research shows that from 2018 to 2028, New Jersey’s long-term care sector will need to fill more than 178,000 job openings in direct care, including more than 26,000 new jobs to meet rising demand and more than 152,000 openings caused by workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force altogether.

Yet, a sense of promise is in the air. A wave of new federal announcements—the American Rescue Plan and the American Jobs Plan, as two notable examples—signal a shift in how the federal government supports states to strengthen this workforce.

New Jersey has also recently raised its level of support for this workforce; in his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year (which begins July 1), New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy earmarked $240 million for wage increases for direct support professionals, certified nurse aides, and personal care assistants, as well as Medicaid transportation providers and childcare workers.

‘ESSENTIAL JOBS, ESSENTIAL CARE’

In November 2020, PHI and the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation co-hosted a virtual conversation on the state of New Jersey’s direct care workforce, which gathered more than 150 people from across different sectors and regions of the state.

Participants discussed the ideas and recommendations outlined in PHI’s report on New Jersey’s direct care workers, which was released the day of the convening. Participants identified as a top priority the importance of developing a statewide coalition to advance a comprehensive advocacy agenda in support of these workers—an effort that PHI has begun leading with generous support from the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.

Building on the ideas from this conversation and recent developments in New Jersey, here are three ideas that the state’s lawmakers could consider to improve jobs for these essential workers.

3 IMMEDIATE POLICY POSSIBILITIES

A statewide workgroup on New Jersey’s direct care workforce—following the example of comparable groups in at least 11 other states—could create a blueprint for strengthening this workforce. Informed by diverse stakeholders from across the state, this type of action plan could provide recommendations across a range of issues affecting this workforce and spark collaboration among organizations and leaders that do not typically work together. As demand for long-term care and direct care workers continues increasing in the future, such collaboration will be needed to improve care and job quality.

New Jersey’s direct care workforce would benefit significantly from a range of workforce interventions that elevate their role in care delivery and improve their jobs. Evaluating training and certification standards (and the staffing implications), creating career advancement opportunities, and investing in recruitment and retention efforts are critical ways that state lawmakers can support this workforce—and these efforts benefit workers, the people they support and their families, and employers. In short: everyone wins.

Bolstering the data infrastructure on direct care workers in New Jersey would help understand this workforce more fully. If state policymakers invested in building a robust data collection system to adequately measure workforce size, stability, credentials, and compensation, they would be better positioned to know the precise needs and realities of the direct care workforce—and to evaluate the impact of policy interventions. State leaders could also get a grasp on workforce capacity in different regions of the state, a need that was amplified during the COVID-19 crisis.

A NEW DAY

The COVID-19 crisis and the new presidential administration are drawing much-deserved attention to the direct care workforce. But increased visibility does not always translate to increased policy investment. Will New Jersey make the most of this moment and continue to move the needle on this workforce? It is definitely time.

Learn more about New Jersey’s direct care workforce >>

This work is made possible through generous support from the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.

Robert Espinoza
About The Author

Robert Espinoza

Vice President of Policy
Robert Espinoza oversees PHI's national policy, research, and communications division. He has been a national policy expert, communications strategist, and writer for 20 years.
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