Colorado’s Direct Care Workforce

Our direct care workforce provides invaluable, hands-on services to help older adults age in ways they find meaningful. Driven by Colorado’s place as among the fastest aging states in the country, the direct care workforce is one of our most rapidly expanding fields. Despite both the importance and need for these individuals and their services, low wages mean they often struggle to make ends meet. In our latest brief, we explore Colorado’s direct care workforce in more depth.

Unfortunately, the contradiction between low compensation and the tremendous value direct care workers add to our communities isn’t new. Instead, history shows us this trend is longstanding and reflects a consistent undervaluing of women’s — more specifically, women of color’s — work. In the following brief we build upon previous pieces about direct care workers to further explore the connection between the makeup of this workforce and how it’s valued. We conclude with several structural challenges preventing Colorado from building the robust, well-supported direct care workforce we need.

As defined by the Bell, the direct care workforce is comprised of three distinct professions: home health aides, personal care aides, and certified nursing assistants. As we’ve outlined, differences exist between these positions, specifically in relation to responsibilities and training requirements. However, taken together, these three professions provide the bulk — approximately 80 percent — of paid, hands-on care for older adults. This includes help with a host of activities necessary for daily living, including medication management, transportation assistance, meal preparation, and help with bathing and dressing.

As Colorado ages, demand for these workers is growing. Estimates suggest roughly 70 percent of adults aged 65 and older will need some type of long-term support, which often includes help from direct care workers. Counterintuitively, wages remain abysmally low despite growing demand for these positions.

Learn more about Colorado’s direct care workforce in our latest brief.