Despite the relatively low pay, many aides say they like the flexible hours and find the work rewarding.
Tate, a home care aide since 1999, doubts she could get by if it weren't for her husband, a truck driver who also has health insurance. She could make more money at a nursing home or hospital but relishes the connections she makes in home care.
"I get attached to the people," said Tate, who made $8.50 an hour until she received a promotion and a $2 raise earlier this summer. "How could you not if you're with them every day? Sometimes you're the only person they see."
Retired hospital nurse and home health aide Judith Mezey-Kirby, born a few years ahead of the baby boom, said she worries about who will take care of boomers in the coming years.
Home health care workers need not only better pay, she said, but also better training on how to take care of basic needs. She had good and bad experiences with aides who help her with the laundry and chores that require heavy lifting around her home in Fairview Park, a Cleveland suburb.
"It needs attention bad," said Mezey-Kirby, 73. "You just can't take people off the streets."
Wittens' company considered adding a 401(k) plan for its workers but decided it was too costly. Home aides she hires start at $8.50 per hour and can earn up to $10. Most work 30 to 40 hours a week, and all but a few have other part-time jobs, Witten said.
Jareese Mitchell, a personal care attendant in Manchester, Conn., spends 30 hours a week with two quadriplegics, helping them eat, dress and bathe. He also goes to school and works three nights a week at a clothing store.
"Everybody has a job outside; you pretty much have to," said Mitchell, who until recently was receiving food stamps. He said he might look for different work if the pay doesn't increase.
That's not unusual. The turnover rate among home health aides is estimated to be anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent, sometimes higher.
The revolving door is especially tough on those who depend on home aides for help throughout the day.
"My mom gets nervous when she has brand-new people. There's always a trust issue," said Beth Cramer, who lives with her 74-year-old mother in the Cleveland suburb of Willowick. An aide comes to the house to help her mother with dressing and cooking while Cramer is at work.
"They're doing the most intimate of intimate things," she said. "Imagine a stranger walking into your house and giving you a bath."
Gail Williams, a personal assistant in Tampa, Fla., said many people have no one else.
"You just can't quit the job because these people need you," she said.
Chris Hradisky, who relies on a personal assistant to help him with meals and clean his apartment in Waukegan, Ill., said he wouldn't be on his own without help.
His aides, he said, are like family. "You build a bond with them."
Reach John Seewer at http://twitter.com/jseewerap .
The latest installment in Aging America, the joint AP-APME project examining the aging of the baby boomers and its impact on society.
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