I agree that those who care for people with disabilities should earn a living wage ("Minimum wage debate ignores crucial group," Jan. 15).

I have been a direct-care staff worker at the Athelas Institute in Columbia for more than 10 years, yet the new people coming in with no experience make almost as much as I do. I have had experience working with disabled people since I was 19, when my oldest son was born with learning disabilities.

I had another son when I was 27, who also had learning disabilities, so I already had 20 years of experience working with people with limited abilities when I came to Athelas. Including the time I have worked for Athelas, I have been working with people with learning and developmental difficulties for 30 years.

However, I am not compensated for my work in a way that reflects the length of my experience. I can't even afford my own apartment and have been living with roommates for more than three years since my husband died.

Everyone I know at Athelas has to work at least two jobs to make ends meet. My husband worked for Athelas for a year and a half before he died. He had been working in the construction industry for 40 years and was making $15 an hour working a 40-hour week. When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, he was laid off and forced to look for other employment. When he came to Athelas, he earned $9 per hour for 30 hours per week.

Does this mean that building houses and commercial buildings is more important than looking after the needs of those who can't do so for themselves? That's the message that society is currently sending.

Tammy R. Edmondson, Columbia

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