Harris limits economic mobility for the emerging workforce

The Supreme Court's latest decision on workers' rights, Harris v. Quinn, is not just a blow to the right to organize; the decision will also increase the racial wealth gap. Harris disproportionately impacts workers of color and the limit on their right to organize ensures home care jobs will remain poverty-wage jobs with little to no benefits. Without access to decent wages, workers of color will continue to face economic insecurity. The racial wealth gap, which is already at record levels, will continue to grow.

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Home care aides are overwhelmingly female; women of color are overrepresented in the sector. Home care is a notoriously poorly paid profession and in-home workers' hourly wages are nearly 25 percent lower than those of similar workers in other occupations. Home care aides also fall within the category of domestic workers who are still not protected by the National Labor Relations Act, nor are they protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. They were also exempt from overtime and minimum wage protections until last year when President Obama directed the Department of Labor to extend these protections to domestic workers.

While the ruling was not as broad as advocates feared, Harris significantly limits the ability of home care aides to organize. Yet, low-wage professions, like home care, particularly benefit from union representation. Unionizing raises the typical low-wage worker's wages by almost 21 percent. This boost in wages for low-wage workers is much higher than for workers in the middle of the national pay scale. Unionized low-wage workers are also more likely to have healthcare and pension benefits.

Higher wages, pensions and access to health insurance all contribute to the financial security of working families. Unequal access to financial security is one of the main drivers of the racial wealth gap and over the past 25 years, the racial wealth gap has tripled. This level of systemic inequality is bad for working families and for the overall economy. Moreover, the changing demographics in the country make addressing the racial wealth gap all the more urgent.

People of color will soon be a majority of the overall population, but the younger generation is already experiencing the demographic shift. Recent Census data show that while 79 percent of people older than 65 are non-Hispanic white, 51.8 percent of residents under 15 are non-Hispanic white. At the same time, the nation is aging. By 2050, the population over 65 is expected to grow to 83.7 million, nearly double the size from 2012. To ensure the aging populations are supported, the upcoming workforce must be able to reach its economic potential.

The Harris decision severely limits the ability of the emerging workforce to reach its full economic potential, which in turn threatens the economic security of the future aging population. Home care work is one of the fastest-growing sectors with a workforce that is primarily female, and in particular, women of color. Without the ability to organize, these jobs will remain poorly paid. Poorly paid work robs families of economic security and the future generation of retirement security because the low wages will not produce enough tax revenue to fully fund Social Security benefits. 

With Harris, the Supreme Court unnecessarily restricts the ability of people to reach economic security, now and for generations to come.

Cha is an associate director at PolicyLink, where she works in the Equity as a Superior Growth Model program.