BOSTON–Six years ago, my neighbor Karen had a stroke. Paralyzed on her left side, Karen can’t walk, cook for herself, or use the bathroom. “I have to depend on somebody to do everything for me,” she says.
Yet Karen, 61, who is divorced and without children, has managed to stay in her home — thanks to daily care from Mary, an immigrant from Ghana. Mary lives full time in Karen’s house, sleeping in a spare bedroom. Officially, Mary works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for her employer, a private home-care agency. But in reality, Mary looks after Karen at all hours — bathing her, bringing her food and drink, changing her, helping her in and out of bed.
Mary makes $8.40 an hour before taxes — $1.60 below the Massachusetts minimum wage — from the private agency that employs her. She nets $610 a week for 84 hours of work — and makes no overtime, although state law entitles her to time-and-a-half for every hour over 40.Details