Women’s Work Is the Backbone of the U.S. Economy

For 400+ years, we’ve been playing by their rules. (You know—the ones cisgender white men made.) Not any more. Women are the majority of voters in this country and together we have the power. It’s time for a new set of rules that values all of us—our bodies, our lives and our work. The Majority Rules project—an artful essay and op-ed series from Ms. and Supermajority Education Fund—marks an essential step toward achieving gender equality.

Majority Rule 3: Our work is valued.

(video narrated by Reshma Saujani; op-ed by Ai-jen Poo)

Thirty years ago when President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law, the movement that was then demanding recognition for the needs of caregivers and parents in the workplace was growing and rising into the same movement that, in 2023, would demand to recognize the needs of domestic workers in their employers’ homes.

The work of care—whether provided by family members, or by professional care workers like nannies and home care workers—is no longer hidden “behind every great man…,” as the slogan of the feminist movement of the ’60s and ’70s claimed. Instead, care work is essential infrastructure discussed in Congress and addressed in Biden’s State of the Union speech last month.

It’s natural to look for milestones to measure progress, such as landmark legislation like the FMLA, and legislative efforts are an essential pillar to create standards and floors that set a minimum to uphold. But these milestones are more often markers of the movement that is driving progress forward. Because behind every landmark piece of legislation is a movement of tens of thousands of women who refuse to work unseen and without the recognition their contributions deserve, building power and organizing to ensure our value is seen and reflected in every way our society measures value. 

And our movement is still growing.

It might seem obvious that the pandemic has been driving change, but the pandemic only accelerated what our movement was already achieving. The care economy, as it became known, was the backbone of our recovery, and the jobs most often held by women—teachers, caregivers, nurses, domestic workers—were, perhaps for the first time, seen as essential and skilled work. 

But the work of our movement has so much further to go. Unequal pay has added further strain on families, especially the 41 percent of households where mothers are the breadwinners. Hospitals and schools have seen record staff shortages. An absence of home care workers has strained families seeking care for their loved ones. Domestic workers are still without a fair wage and a safe workplace. These burdens are heaviest for women of color, who continue to be the first to lose income and the last to receive support. 

Paid parental leave, higher wages for care workers, a domestic workers’ bill of rights, pay transparency and equal pay for equal work are just a few of the solutions that are long overdue. These investments are not only common sense; they have broad public support and would strengthen the economic and social fabric of our country. More states are increasing their minimum wage laws, and the majority of people in our country support paid parental leave.

We don’t say, “Behind every great man is a great woman” anymore, because women aren’t standing behind men anymore; we are care workers and caregivers leading the way to making the investments in our shared care infrastructure that we all need.

To achieve a future where everyone can thrive, women need to be paid equally for our work, and the jobs primarily done by women—from teaching to caregiving—must truly be valued and supported.

Reshma Saujani

Explore The Majority Rules series, a collaboration between Ms. and Supermajority:

  1. Our lives are safe. (feat. Mariska Hargitay and Alicia Garza)
  2. Our bodies are respected. (feat. Cecile Richards)
  3. Our work is valued. (feat. Reshma Saujani and Ai-jen Poo)
  4. Our families are supported. (feat. Stephanie Beatriz and Amanda Brown Lierman)
  5. Our government represents us. (feat. Alicia Garza and Katherine Grainger)


Ai-jen Poo is a co-founder of Supermajority Education Fund and currently serves as president of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the executive director of Caring Across Generations. Under her leadership, the National Domestic Workers Alliance has helped pass Domestic Workers Bills of Rights in 10 states and four cities, and helped 2 million home care workers receive minimum wage protections.