New Orleans Meeting with three visitors and friends from Korea, Yungik Jeong, Young Mi Choi, and Hwang Inhul, who work with PSAU, an organization of the unemployed and irregular workers, as informal and unprotected workers are now known there, the conversation quickly came to plight of home health care workers or domestic workers as they are sometimes called in Korea. Similar to the US, this has become a fast growing occupation which they estimated already involves 400,000 workers, yet these workers are not allowed the usual protections and social security of other Korean workers and from what they indicated are actually banned from membership in labor unions.
It was painful for me to report that in the US after many years of employment increases and rising protections brought by unionization in many states, these same critical, yet low status health care workers, are facing a crisis in state after state. Announcement curtailments of workers has already expanded waiting lists in many states, and California where there may be close to as a many workers as exist in Korea faces drastic budget proposals by the governor. If all the proposals being discussed were realized my guess is that 200,000 home health care workers could see their jobs disappear with cutbacks in state subsidies. The loss of 200,000 union dues payers would also be critical for SEIU, AFSCME, and other unions representing home health workers.
The IMF crisis a little more than a decade ago in Korea finds its lingering wake in the severe cutback of labor protections. The Great Recession in the US may end up leaving a similar tsunami for many public – and private – employees as well.
Bob Hebert in the New York Times woefully reminded today that many are averaging a 25% cutback in income in the recession and that it may take 6 to 10 years to make up the ground to move back from income insecurity to any semblance of citizen wealth.
Discussions with my Korean friends was a painful reminder of the long tail of economic crises with no end in sight.