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The Dignity of Living: America’s Home Care Aides

  • In this Equal Voice News report, meet Christal Boutte, a Seattle woman who is among 3.5 million home caregivers. Learn about her compassion, her clients and living.

“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who need caregiving.”  – Rosalynn Carter

 

Each morning, Christal Boutte takes a moment to relax before her workday fills up. She might engage in yoga at home, if she has time, or pull out an alternative newspaper to read during her bus commute. One thing is certain–it is going to be another long day.

The Mount Holyoke College graduate is a home caregiver in Seattle, one of about 3.5 million such professionals in the country. She assists people in doing something that many take for granted. Boutte, 30, helps four people lead dignified lives, regardless of circumstances, in their homes.

  • Home care aide Christal Boutte is living in a one-bedroom apartment with her uncle. When she can, she practices yoga before her workday begins. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte helps Todd, her client, reach for a pole that he uses to move in and out of his wheelchair in his bedroom. She is one of three home care aides who assist Todd maintain his independence. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte doesn’t have a car and relies on the bus to get to and from her clients\’ homes. They live in different Seattle neighborhoods and the suburbs. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • By 2030, a quarter of the U.S. population is expected to be over the age of 65. Home care aides will be in high demand, as more people say they want to grow older in their homes. The average pay for aides, though, is less than $11 an hour. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News.

  • Christal Boutte earns $11.50 as a home care aide in Seattle and lives with her uncle in a one-bedroom apartment. She is saving money for an apartment, but rent in Seattle can be expensive. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte, right, helps her client, Todd, put on his sweatshirt and prepare for his time at a day program operated by Full Life Care, a nonprofit agency that also employs her. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • As a home care aide, Seattle resident Christal Boutte helps four clients in the area. Nationwide, there are about 3.5 million such caregivers, who help people live in their homes. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte visits with a client, a woman who suffers from anxiety and depression so severe that she is virtually unable to leave her apartment. Boutte becomes friends with her clients, who are often isolated by their medical conditions. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • In her work as a home care aide, Christal Boutte, left, works with four residents in the Seattle area. In the course of her work, she has become friends with the people she helps. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte\’s client, Todd, requires assistance for many of the common tasks of daily living. Without the assistance of a home care aide, he would be unable to live independently and would need to live in a full-time care facility. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Home care aides are trained to assist clients with some range of motion activities. Christal Boutte helps Todd, her client, with range of motion activities, which help keep his condition from worsening. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte, right, and her client, Todd, step outside after she helps him in his apartment. He participates in a day program for people with disabilities. It is run by Full Life Care, the nonprofit agency that employs her. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte pours milk on oatmeal for her client, Todd. His disability makes the routine of daily life difficult if not impossible. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte, a home caregiver, works a broad range of hours in the Seattle region. On this day, she arrives at 6 a.m. to help Todd, a client, at his apartment. Without a car, she either runs to get there from her apartment several miles away or takes the bus. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte\’s client, Todd, suffered a traumatic brain injury 15 years ago and has been in a wheelchair ever since. She helps him get out of bed, get dressed and into his wheelchair twice a week. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte, a home care aide, catches a nap on her commute in the Seattle area, going from one client to another. On some days, her work starts before dawn. On other days, she doesn’t get home until midnight. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • By 2022, the U.S. will need about 1.3 million more home care aides to help aging residents. Christal Boutte, a Seattle resident, is one of about 3.5 million such caregivers. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Todd, who is Christal Boutte\’s client, is unable to get out of bed without her help. He has been in a wheelchair since a boating accident 20 years ago. Home care aides are trained to work with a full range of disabilities. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Christal Boutte shares a one-bedroom apartment with her uncle. The only private space she has is an office, which is where she sleeps. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

  • Rhonda, left, has cognitive issues that make it difficult for her to manage the challenges of daily life. Christal Boutte, a Seattle caregiver, helps her keep her life organized and on track. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown for Equal Voice News

Boutte is working in a fast-growing segment of the U.S. economy. The country’s population is aging rapidly, and according to surveys, a high majority of people want to stay in their homes as they age. By 2020, one in six people in America will be over the age of 65, according to some projections.

Home caregivers help the disabled, the sick and the elderly with daily tasks, including dressing, bathing, managing medication, cleaning and cooking. They also provide emotional support and companionship.

In the U.S., nine out of 10 home care aides are women. A third are Black. About 16 percent of the workforce are Latino. Of all home caregivers, 25 percent were born outside the U.S.

The work has its rewards. Boutte enjoys a rapport with the people she helps. Smiles brighten long days. The work can be challenging, too, both physically and emotionally. There is a high rate of workplace injuries. Health insurance is not a given. Only 25 percent of all home caregivers have health care.

On average, wages are below $11 an hour. A quarter of home health workers live in poverty.

Boutte works full-time for Full Life Care, a nonprofit agency, to help clients stay in their homes. She earns $11.50 an hour. She also has health care. To save money, she shares a one-bedroom basement apartment with an uncle, sleeping on the floor in a walk-in closet.

Some workdays start before dawn. Others end at midnight. The people she helps have a variety of diagnoses, including cognitive disabilities, paralysis and multiple sclerosis.

“I can help people who are isolated, who really need help with the tasks of daily living, to stay in their homes and keep their independence and to feel respected and valued,” Boutte says.

Rhonda, one of her clients, says that Boutte is doing more than that—more, in fact, than most people ever achieve. Boutte is saving lives, Rhonda says, one long day after another.

Paul Joseph Brown is a photojournalist based in Bellingham, Washington. He contributed images, video footage and reporting. He is a former photographer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He specializes in global health and environmental issues. Valerie Vozza, a Seattle-based videographer, helped with editing. Reporting for this project came from various sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The Age of Dignity” by Ai-jen Poo and PHI.

2015 © Equal Voice for America’s Families Newspaper

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