There may be more to the story than you think!

By Steve Moran

I am just coming off 3 fantastic days at NIC. While there is some mild sober reflection about occupancies, the overall mood is full steam ahead (much more about this in future articles). However, the one area that seems to be getting a lot of attention is the assumed presumed shortage of caregivers.

If there is a shortage, it will presumably mean wages will increase at a rate that is higher than the ability to raise rates. We also know the unemployment rates are improving, sort of . . .

Then . . .

On my flight to San Antonio for the AHCA conference I was catching up on the news and saw this story Record 94,610,000 Americans Not in Labor Force; Participation Rate Lowest in 38 Years. While mostly only reported at conservative-leaning websites, the numbers are real. They indicate that we have more people in this country who could work, but have either chosen not to work or gotten discouraged and given up looking for work, than at any time in almost 40 years.

In thinking about these numbers I find myself wondering if in fact there is a huge untapped labor force in the country waiting to be found. It will not necessarily be easy to entice those individuals back into the marketplace, given that presumably most of them have figured out how to cope with being jobless. It may also mean that wages will still need to go up.

A week or so ago, I moderated a panel for the British Columbia Seniors Housing Association and had the opportunity to interview a whole bunch of Canadian senior living executives (stories I will be sharing in the coming weeks). The one thing I had missed until those interviews was that pay rates for line staff are much higher, running $16-$19 per hour.  

It is not quite an apples to apples comparison in that, while the communities do have certain benefits they are required to pay, it is not comparable to what most US employers pay. Further, because the Canadian dollar is weaker than the US dollar, those rates are not quite equivalent but not that far off either. As a benchmark, fast food workers in Canada are typically making $10-$11 per hour. The bottom line being that frontline caregivers receive a significant premium over fast food workers.

It Seems Inconceivable

It seems inconceivable that increasing labor costs could be a good thing and yet I find myself wondering if in fact that could be true. No doubt it would be painful in the short-run, but in the long-run it could put our potential labor challenges to rest. We know for sure it has not killed the Canadian senior living providers.

Unleashing The Potential

I find myself thinking that the key to making this all work is painting a better picture of the missional nature of caring for seniors. I believe it is possible to make these front-line jobs very attractive to the chronic unemployed by focusing on the intangible paycheck that each caregiver receives.