When the Trump administration announced last week that it would end an Obama-era program that shielded young unauthorized immigrants from deportation, Sherwin Sheik quickly sized up the potential toll on his business.
Sheik is the chief executive and founder of CareLinx, which matches home care workers with patients and their families. The company relies heavily on authorized immigrant labor, making the looming demise of the program — which has transformed around 700,000 people brought to this country as children into authorized workers — a decidedly unwelcome development.
The move, Sheik said, would compound an already “disastrous situation in terms of shortages of supply.” He added, “This is a big issue we’re focusing on.”
Recalling the revolt among business executives that followed President Donald Trump’s refusal to single out white supremacists for causing violence last month in Charlottesville, Va., leaders of companies in the finance, manufacturing and technology industries, including Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, have been quick to oppose the decision to end the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
Those executives may have empathy for the beneficiaries of the program, known as “Dreamers,” as well as a broader interest in more liberal immigration policies to satisfy their labor needs. But the practical effect on their businesses will typically be minimal. The number of workers who benefit from the program is tiny alongside a national labor force of more than 150 million, and the DACA workers are spread out relatively evenly across most industries.
In health care, on the other hand, the economic impact could be significant, depriving patients of help they depend on and driving up costs for families and taxpayers.
Surveys of DACA beneficiaries reveal that roughly one-fifth of them work in the health care and educational sector, suggesting a potential loss of tens of thousands of workers from in-demand job categories such as home health aide and nursing assistant.
At the same time, projections by the government and advocacy groups show that the economy will need to add hundreds of thousands of workers in these fields over the next five to 10 years simply to keep up with escalating demand, caused primarily by a rapidly aging population.
“It’s going to have a real impact on consumers,” Paul Osterman, a professor at the Sloan School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of a new book on long-term care workers, said of the DACA move.
The DACA program benefits people who entered the country as children and were under age 31 as of June 2012. A 2016 survey by pro-immigration groups and a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, shows that roughly half are still in school, and more than two-thirds have earned less than a bachelor’s degree. That would make fields such as home health care aide or nursing and health assistants, which don’t require a college degree, potentially attractive.
Under the Obama-era program, recipients had to apply to renew their status every two years. The Trump administration said last week that some beneficiaries will be able to renew their status up until Oct. 5. Others could face deportation beginning in March, unless Congress intervenes beforehand.
Experts say the effects of undoing the program could quickly ripple out from DACA beneficiaries to other workers.
“It destabilizes that workforce,” said Robert Espinoza, vice president for policy at PHI, a group that advocates on behalf of personal care workers. “If you are seeing family members, children, neighbors being deported, threatened, and so on, the ability to be present on the job is undermined.”
The health care field’s reliance on immigrant labor makes it particularly vulnerable. According to census data Osterman analyzed, more than one-quarter of home health aides in 2015 were immigrants. The proportion in certain states is far higher, reaching nearly one-half in California and nearly two-thirds in New York.
The undoing of DACA could also herald the undoing of other programs that provide a steady source of immigrant labor in the health care sector. For example, the government can grant people from certain countries that have endured hardship, such as natural disasters or civil wars, what it calls temporary protected status (TPS).
The overwhelming majority of workers granted that status hail from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, and many have flocked to low-paying health care professions as well.
“We know from surveys that TPS recipients are highly represented in the workforce in certain areas,” said Tom Jawetz, a vice president of the Center for American Progress, a think tank that favors more liberal immigration policies. “In particular, many — especially Haitians — work in home health care.”
As a basic matter of economics, removing tens of thousands of workers from occupations that already suffer from a serious labor shortage — the Labor Department predicts the country will need more than 1.25 million home health aides by 2024, up from about 900,000 in 2014 — generally has one unambiguous effect: driving up costs.
This may be welcome on some level: The department estimates that the typical home health aide made less than $25,000 in 2016, for a job that can be physically and emotionally grueling.
The economic problem is twofold, however. First, the government, through Medicaid, often pays the salaries of home health workers, meaning that escalating wages could blow a hole in the federal budget. (Medicaid, through the decisions of the state and federal governments, effectively caps compensation for home health workers, but the caps could rise more quickly in a world of plunging labor supply.)
Second, an acute shortage of home health workers could force many older and disabled Americans out of their homes and into care facilities, where costs are roughly two-to-three times the cost of home care for a full year. The government typically picks up that tab as well.
Still, it is the personal toll that may be greatest: A patient’s quality of life tends to be far higher when he or she can continue living at home.
SundayMonday Business on 09/10/2017