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Workforce Shortages: Bold Solutions from LeadingAge

LeadingAge has just released the IMAGINE Initiative – a bold set of proposals to increase the number of foreign-born aging services workers available in the United States. 

The Challenge:

By 2030, the United States will need 2.5 million caregivers working in long-term services and supports to keep up with the growing needs of our rapidly aging population. There are not enough American born workers to meet this need. Unemployment rates – currently 3.6% nationally – are at a historic low. As the population ages, the number of working-aged individuals overall will decline.

In this recent LeadingAge nationwide poll, more than half of older baby boomers said if they have dementia and need help with activities of daily living, they want to get that help in a residential place. 

Staffing shortages are already a problem today. Of the 11 U.S. occupations projected to grow the fastest from 2016 to 2026, the third and fourth fastest-growing occupations will be home health aides and personal care aides.

A Solution:

Today, approximately 28% of people who work in nursing homes and more than 30% of home health workers are foreign-born. The IMAGINE initiative legislative proposals include a temporary guest worker program, changes to the J-1 cultural exchange visa, and new ways to modify current authorities to focus on aging services workers.

The proposed guest worker program, modeled on current guest worker authorities for agriculture and hospitality, would allow employers to hire qualified foreign-born individuals for a fixed amount of time (possibly renewable). The employer would have to first demonstrate that there are no US-born workers available to fill the positions.

The proposed changes to the cultural exchange (J-1) visa would allow au pairs, who are now limited to homes with children under age 18, to also work in homes with individuals over age 65 who need assistance. This is particularly timely because people over 65 will outnumber children in the US by 2035.

LeadingAge will work hard to educate members of Congress on the aging workforce crisis and this potential – and partial – solution. It is likely that something as bold as the IMAGINE proposals will not be considered until some other, more widely discussed immigration challenges are addressed. 

Members hosting Coffee Chats with members of Congress in their home community are in a great position to educate policy makers about the shortage of aging services workers and the important role they play in caring for our aging population.

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