The experience of giving and receiving care is deeply personal – and is also a key structural challenge for American society, as the past pandemic year has made clear. Access to care has been crucial for people to continue to work and care for their families, while the absence of care has contributed to declines in labor force participation and employment, particularly for women and disproportionately for Black and Latina women. The crisis in care has become more visible during a time when the need for care is growing – the nation’s aging population is expanding, and most care work cannot be outsourced or automated. Half of the ten fastest growing occupations are in care fields, and there are more projected job openings for home health aides in the next decade than for any other occupation, putting it on track to be the largest occupation by 2029.
Despite the increasing demand for care, the current systems and policies to support the US care economy – including childcare, elder care, care for individuals with disabilities, and paid family and medical leave – have long been inadequate. And care workers remain underpaid and undervalued, contributing to high attrition rates and influencing the quality of care. As we move from crisis to recovery, how can policy contribute to building a care economy that dignifies the work of caregivers and expands access to quality, affordable care? How can our systems center gender and racial equity to construct a care economy that serves all families? And how can our society support a healthy and sustainable caregiving system for our post-pandemic future, in which the demand for caregiving is poised to continue to grow?
On April 21, the Economic Opportunities Program hosted a special event, Valuing Care: Principles for a Post-Pandemic Care Economy, to address these questions and more. The event brought together policymakers, experts, caregivers, and cultural leaders for a wide-ranging conversation on the value of caregiving and ideas to strengthen the care economy – the paid and unpaid labor and services that support caregiving in all its forms.
The event, which took place shortly after the announcement of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, began with introductory remarks from Maureen Conway, executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program, and Dan Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. Heather Boushey, a member of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah then delivered remarks on the importance of strengthening the care economy.
“This year has taught us all, across the nation, how the care economy is the foundation of our economy,” Boushey remarked. In the following clip, Boushey reflects on the twin crises of a lack of good care and a lack of good jobs and notes that investing in the care economy creates a positive feedback loop that allows family caregivers to find quality care and care workers to find quality jobs.
Senator Romney began his remarks by noting that families across the country are facing financial strain, which has been made worse by COVID-19. “We have not comprehensively reformed our family support system in about three decades,” Romney noted, “and our changing economy has left millions of families behind.” He talked about his child benefit plan, which would provide monthly cash payments to families around the country, similar to the expanded Child Tax Credit President Biden recently passed in the American Rescue Plan.
Erika Beras of NPR’s Marketplace (now with Planet Money) then facilitated a panel discussion of policy and practice experts, which focused on approaches to strengthen the care economy in the near-term for recovery and in the long-term for a sustainable future.
Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP, discussed the economic case for a large investment in care, drawing on recent research conducted by her organization. In the following clip, Tchen describes caregiving as a foundational part of the nation’s infrastructure: “Caregiving is as essential to our economic infrastructure as roads and bridges or the electric grid because it is the mechanism by which we put people to work,” says Tchen.
During the panel, Dorian Warren, president of Community Change and co-chair of the Economic Security Project, discussed the work of organizers around the country to strengthen public investments in childcare. In this clip, Warren describes the historical context and racist policies that shape current working conditions for childcare workers – an occupation in which women of color are overrepresented – as well as longstanding narratives around whose work is valued.
Abby McCloskey, founder of McCloskey Policy LLC and a former program director of economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute, discussed opportunities for bipartisan support for policies to strengthen care. In this clip, McCloskey discusses how challenges such as lack of affordable childcare and low wages for caregivers predate the pandemic and why she focuses on paid leave in her work.
Adria Powell, president and CEO of Cooperative Home Care Associates, a worker-owned home care agency in the Bronx, discussed strategies employers can adopt to improve the quality of jobs for care workers, including providing comprehensive benefits and offering full-time hours. Powell also examined opportunities for policy changes, including increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates, to remove barriers long-term care providers confront in raising wages.
Following the panel, Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and director of Caring Across Generations, and Justin Baldoni, director, producer, and co-founder of Wayfarer Studios, came together for a conversation about their collaborative work and the role of culture creators in shaping narratives around care.
“It is a reinforcing narrative that the people who do this work and this work itself are less than – less than real work, less than real workers, less than fully human. And we have the opportunity to write a new story. And that’s where I think storytellers – artists, directors, producers like you – really come in and why it’s so powerful that you’ve created this platform,” Poo told Baldoni, referring to the miniseries Man Enough to Care, produced by Baldoni’s Wayfarer studios in partnership with Caring Across Generations.
Poo also spoke about Caring Across Generations’ vision for a universal system to support childcare, long-term care, and paid family leave, as well as the progress she has seen during the pandemic in the movement for public investments in care. Baldoni credited Poo with helping to broaden his awareness of the importance of caregiving work, which he described as “the invisible work that makes the work possible.” As Baldoni told Poo, “Capitalism is not possible without the unpaid labor of mothers and all the minimum wage care that we have all around the country.”
Each of these leaders hold parts of the work in building a care infrastructure to support working Americans – and combating the notion that affording care is an individual responsibility. Access to care is a collective problem that will take policy to solve; policy that raises poverty-level wages among caregivers and supports families in affording the care they need to make their lives work. Employers, caregivers, labor leaders, elected officials, and culture makers made clear at this spring’s event that we are at a historic moment in the fight to build a robust care economy.
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