Vetoing Investments in Care Work, Republicans Again Fail to Pay and Respect Women

A childcare worker reads with her students at the child development center aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on Sept. 23, 2015.

In the autumn of last year, I felt hopeful.

The work I do providing in-home care was elevated in President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) plan. BBB acknowledged the deferred maintenance in our nation’s infrastructure and the urgent need to seize the moment to finally, truly invest in and rebuild a nation that works for all of us.

The care economy—childcare, home care and community-based services—was, for the first time in our nation’s history, acknowledged as crucial, yet underfunded infrastructure. It was like a lightbulb went off in our national consciousness. Of course we need to invest in this! That was huge. I was elated. We won a commitment from the Democratic-led House last year to pay, protect and respect the women whose work makes it possible for other women to work.

As proposed in BBB, the long overdue investment would have created millions of good union jobs for a workforce that’s largely women of color, while making care more accessible to those who need it: seniors (the “Silver Tsunami” that we aren’t prepared for), people with disabilities, and families with young children. When the House delivered that resounding “yes” on BBB, we were no longer second-class citizens, no longer the invisible “help.”

But the Senate blocked BBB and, this summer, delivered a surprise—the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. While I applaud the law’s important reforms, there is a glaring omission: a lack of investment in the care economy, the industry dominated by women and women of color.

Adding further insult to injury, this Senate plan came just weeks after the extreme U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision that stripped away decades of hard-won rights. Just when women of all ages were feeling kicked in the teeth, Senate Republicans (84 percent of them men) actively lobbied against including investment in caregivers or care recipients in this new spending bill. In doing so, they sent a clear message to those of us who provide care, as well as to the overwhelming 81 percent of U.S. voters that support investing in our care system and the women like me who deliver that care.

Here’s what these leaders said:

  • To the more than 3.4 million home care providers across the nation—nearly 90 percent of them women, nearly 56 percent women of color and 50 percent earning below $14.15 per hour—thank you for the care you’ve provided on the front lines of the pandemic. That’s it … just “thank you.” We aren’t here to close the gap on poverty. So go ahead and struggle with housing (37 percent of us do). Go ahead and rely on public assistance (more than 50 percent of us are forced to) so we can continue to shame you for it. Go ahead and provide healthcare assistance while unable to get adequate healthcare for yourselves (60 percent of us either completely lack health coverage or rely on Medicaid).

  • To all of you who no longer have a choice about whether or not to have children, you will struggle to find childcare for your kids, and we won’t offer solutions.

  • Women spend twice as many years in a disabled state at the end of their lives. Nearly two-thirds of home care consumers are women. To these women, these senators said: You will continue the exhausting battle of trying to find caregivers as they continue to leave an industry that refuses to pay anything remotely close to a living wage.

Yes, senators. We hear you loud and clear. And while it’s incredibly discouraging to me, I and other caregivers across this country also have a clear message. We’ll continue our push to get the investment in caregivers and our care economy over the finish line—ensuring that our work is honored and affords dignity. It’s the right thing to do. We’re going to build toward a day when providing long-term care for our nation’s seniors and adults and children with disabilities is recognized as the essential career it is. We’ll build toward a day when young people with a heart for skilled caregiving can hope for a profession that offers life-sustaining wages, good healthcare, training and respect.

The whole point of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was to help families deal with rising costs. Evidently, Republicans forgot that one of the most worrisome financial stressors in nearly every American family is care services: childcare, care for those with disabilities, elder care. That’s why there’s so much support—again, a whopping 81 percent—for investing in our care infrastructure.

That’s a lot of voters. And long-term care providers in California are going to get busy mobilizing them—including in neighboring states, like Arizona and Nevada. Watch out … we’re coming to care for you.

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Carmen Roberts is an in-home care provider and serves as SEIU Local 2015’s first from-its-ranks executive vice president. SEIU Local 2015 is the largest union in California, representing nearly 450,000 long-term care workers (home care, skilled nursing facility and assisted living center workers) throughout the state.