In Praise of Minnesota Representative John Considine

As a matter of policy, I judiciously avoid wading into politics, particularly on matters and issues being debated in a state some 1500 miles from my California home and office. But I'm going to make an exception and give a shout out to Minnesota Representative John (Jack) Considine Jr., who is waging a battle that I've long been proud to be part of: Increasing the wages of professional caregivers.

Considine, a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, is outraged that caregivers in his state earn, on average, between $9 to $11 an hour, given the critical and demanding nature of their work.

"I just find that terribly embarrassing, and terribly wrong that these people work their fannies off for $9 an hour," the Mankato Free Press has Considine on record as saying. "Some of them have two or three jobs. If you work hard, and these people work hard, these people should be able to get paid enough to raise a family."

The Mankato Free Press says that despite "some early progress and widespread legislative support," a bill to increase caregiver wages "went nowhere this year." I'm no expert on Minnesota politics, but I'm willing to wager the reason the bill ultimately died was because of intense lobbying from the powerful nursing home lobby, which has successfully and repeatedly fought to keep caregiver wages low.

Considine says getting caregivers more pay will be one of his legislative priorities for 2017. But raising caregiver wages across the board by government fiat may not be the most effective way to achieve his goal. There is increasing evidence that it's more cost efficient to finance programs aimed at keeping people in their homes, rather than confine them to institutions.

Nursing homes get a significant portion of their revenues from state Medicaid programs, and Considine may want to examine this avenue of influence. Increasing demand for caregivers, particularly when there already is a shortage, is a surefire way to drive up wages. As Uber founder Travis Kalanick has explained to justify the on-demand car service's surge pricing, "it's all about supply and demand."

In fairness, most nursing homes can't afford to pay higher wages. The overhead to support their bricks-and-mortar businesses is quite significant, and many nursing homes are saddled with onerous franchise fees, which significantly deplete their profits. It's hardly surprising the nursing home industry is expected to shrink by 20 percent by 2021.

I wish Considine great success in his quest to increase Minnesota's caregiving wages. There aren't many politicians across the country willing to take up the cause and go the distance, and Considine deserves lots of credit for fighting the great fight.

Welcome to the club, Jack!