The Care Crisis

Job creation is the word of the day. In his speech on Thursday night, President Obama outlined his proposal to reinvigorate a stagnating economy. It included a mix of tax cuts, aid to small businesses, federal money for infrastructure projects and a commitment to the public sector. The goal, quite simply, is to put Americans back to work.

Jobs are indeed the best route out of our economic quagmire. With secure, well-paying jobs, Americans will be able to cover their monthly mortgage bills and will be paying taxes into the public coffers rather than drawing from them by relying on unemployment compensation or other state benefits. And the heart of the jobs programs currently being discussed—infrastructure jobs—addresses one critical sector of the American workforce.

Obama also highlighted another key sector when he stressed reinvesting in our public education system and hiring teachers to improve the lives and outcomes of K-12 students. According to the National Center for Educational Information [PDF], 84 percent of K-12 teachers are women, and that number continues to rise.

But this country is going to need more. A gaping hole in the American workforce today is the shortage of care workers. By this I mean people who are taking care of children, the disabled, and the elderly—what was historically considered women’s work.

There is a “care crisis” in this country. Countless families struggle every day to piece together less-than-perfect care arrangements so they can go to work and still fulfill their household responsibilities. According to one study, the percentage of Americans caring for an aging parent tripled since 1994. That number will skyrocket over the next two generations as baby boomers age. The number of people over 65 is expected to double by the year 2050; many of them will require at-home assistance. Last July, the National Domestic Workers Alliance launched a “Caring Across Generations” campaign that will fill this need by training workers, raising wages and working standards, providing tax credits to families hiring caregivers and giving legal status to those workers filling occupations where there is a shortage of workers.

While our physical infrastructure—roads, bridges and schools—must be built or rebuilt, we also need to repair and maintain the social infrastructure that keeps Americans working. Getting to work requires not only a well-paved road. It also requires the peace of mind that our loved ones are well taken care of. Raising the next generation of citizens demands quality teachers and safe buildings, but it also requires parents who are not so overextended that they cannot spend time with and provide academic and moral support for their children.

We don’t live in an era of full-time homemakers or extended family residing down the street, as was the case for many communities in the early 20th century. As we think about reviving our economy and putting people back to work, central to the discussion should be early childhood education, elder care and day care. In addition to creating jobs, we also need to find and pay workers—adequately—to fulfill the shortage of care workers. There is work to be done. The question is: Who’s going to do it?

Photo from flickr user Ed Yourdin under Creative Commons 2.0
This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival. Read more HERvotes posts by Ms. and other women’s groups.


  1. “Serving the common good is women’s work. Let’s do a restart. Right here, right now. To making the world a better place because it is within our power to do so. Let’s not let ourselves and each other down. Let’s keep moving up.” -Roseanne Barr

  2. Kathleen Coll says:

    Thank you for another terrific article on these issues, Prof. Nadasen.

  3. Bemused1946 says:

    There are not enough well-paying jobs that human persons can do since industry fell in love with robotics in the ’70’s. Corporations decided that they could cut their cost-of-doing-business by eliminating the most expensive item, labor, and replacing it with automatons: robotic persons. So the Corporate Persons buy and enslave the robotic persons and then they sell the goods produced to human persons. But human persons don’t have well-paying jobs. The jobs that are left are not well paying, in fact they are more-or-less volunteer positions. Modern human people have survived for hundreds of thousands of years. Corporations have only come into play since 1603 and they have destabilized local economies all over the surface of the planet and apparently the surface of the planet as well.(408 years)

    What did these local economies look like? They had to be successful because the people were alive. Staying alive is the goal, that is what I choose to define success, but there are two ways of looking at staying alive. For me, and I consider myself a Feminist, that goal would be expressed as “when I am a great-grandmother, I will know my grandchildren went to their nice, clean, little beds, with full stomachs, a bed time story and a hug. Knowing that all the other great-grandmothers would be having the same experience.”

    Another way to express this goal is “last man standing.” This is a fiercely fought battle to outlive everyone else, by hook or crook. The last man looks over the battlefield, the ground burned and salted so no life can ever survive there again and he sees this very old tree. He takes his ax and determinedly chops it down so that he is the very last living thing on the planet – and he smiles because he has “won.” Corporations don’t suffer and die, Borg-like they redistribute their parts and battle on. Corporations like this game, especially since they’ve got a bunch of folks from around the world in politics and finance to play along with them. People suffer and die so they tend to not like to play this game.

    How did people manage to survive before corporations? That was also before a lot of science happened. Much happened between 1575 and 1700, a lot of it we want to continue to use. Some of it, not so much.

    In 1900 most Americans were born on a farm (95%??). A difficult life style with lots of hard labor in order to survive from one year to the next. No electricity. No cars. There it is! A job! If you live on a farm you have a job! Your job is to produce what you need to survive one more year.

    Looked at from a market point of view – you could have something to take to market to sell if you grew enough extra corn to keep a few extra chickens to sell the eggs or grow an extra pig for someone. People today don’t have anything to sell or do they? Corporations reproduce human made items in mass and sell them to humans too busy to make them themselves. Humans can make everything in small batches for themselves a little more for the marketplace.

    Time is money! Human time is the basis for human currency. Cash is the currency of the corporate persons. Time is the basis for human currency. There is an international movement called Time Banking. I think womens traditional crafts and arts a could be the modern “egg money” to start a new human currency. And think of the time that could be banked by those women who are taking care of everybody and their uncle!

  4. How about ever representing the views of the people/women/feminists who EMPLOY caretakers? We do exist, and yet Ms. blithely barrels on without offering us a voice.

    I also notice that Ms. continues to use the term, “the disabled,” in its posts, despite your apology after this astonishingly ableist post —
    two years ago.
    In addition to lumping “the disabled” in with children and “the elderly” in the post above, you also do it here:

    More on PWDs/”the disabled” being a “burden” requiring “care” here:

    And then this particularly egregious show of ableism — – 1/22/2012 “A University of Texas economist contends that “ugly” people should have the same legal protection from discrimination as women, LGBT individuals, African-Americans and the disabled. Really!!!????” — which parades Ms.’s ignorance that ugly laws were on the US books as recently as 1974 and are entirely a disability rights issue.

    I’m a Jewish lesbian, and yet I don’t see posts where Ms. writers refer to “the Jews” or “the gays,” but maybe that’s because you actually have Jewish and queer writers working for you who write about these issues. (And yes, I heard two years ago from your one writer with a disability who hadn’t yet written anything relating to disability. But please don’t go to there; it’s not about tokenism, it’s about inclusion. Family members of PWDs are NOT the answer, either, as often they are one of the biggest obstacles to understanding and inclusion in our lives.)

    At this point, since Ms. obviously has no interest in writing about disability rights issues as entirely part of women’s issues, how about at least writing a post where you just admit that you don’t care about or understand — or care to understand — disability rights issues and the lives of people with disabilities? Then the few of us who have not completely decamped from feminism due to your steadfast denial that our lives or realities matter would at least be able to move on without any lingering doubt.

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