The Care Economy: Women, Wealth and Work
|The Community Fund for Women & Girls 2019 Annual Meeting. Photo Judy Sirota Rosenthal
The consequences of undervaluing care work and policy strategies for improving the lives of care workers were the focus of an in-depth panel discussion hosted by the Community Fund for Women & Girls at its Annual Meeting in June. Former Advisory Board Member Miriam Gohara (Yale Law School) moderated the discussion. The panel included Natalícia Tracy (Brazilian Worker Center), Elyse Shaw (Institute for Women’s Policy Research) and Jessica Sager (All Our Kin).
“There are 10,000 people a day turning 65 years old in the United States, which is one person every eight seconds. Then we have millennials on the other end of that spectrum, 25 percent of the population. People born between 1980 and the year 2000 who are having children, building their families and are in the workforce. They need care,” Gohara says.
Millions of women work in jobs that primarily involve caring for the needs of the elderly, children and people with health needs. For large numbers, particularly women of color, their earnings are so low that they and their families live in poverty. Women also provide the majority of the unpaid work caring for sick or impaired loved ones and family members.
“It affects the ability to build wealth over your lifetime,” says Shaw. “When I say wealth, I don’t mean the 1 percent wealth. I mean, if you have an emergency expense this month of $300 or $400, can you pay it? That is what I mean by wealth.”
Lack of benefits also accelerates the wealth gap.
“Nine out of 10 high-wage workers have access to some sort of paid leave; only one in five low-wage workers do,” Shaw explains. The demand for care work is increasing, as it is vital to families and the economy. “Every childcare provider allows four to five parents to enter and remain in the workforce,” says Sager. “Childcare is incredibly expensive and somehow we have set up a system that parents cannot afford and that does not permit childcare providers to meet a decent living.” Recently, Connecticut has strengthened worker protections with the passage of legislation to increase the minimum wage and to guarantee paid family leave and paid sick leave. Panelists advocated for further changes, such as universal childcare for all children ages 0-5 and adding a caregiving credit to social security calculations for people who leave the workforce to care for a loved one without pay. “We need to value care. It is vital for the fabric of our society,” Shaw says. “These are important jobs. This is an important role that people play.”
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