The Care Economy
Millions of women work long hours caring for the needs of the elderly, the infirm, and children. For large numbers, particularly women of color, their earnings are so low that they and their families live in poverty.
Women also provide a majority of the unpaid work caring for sick or aging loved-ones or for family members. Improved working conditions and protections, along with access to better opportunities, are needed for women for there to be a truly inclusive economy.
By The Numbers
- The four low-wage female-dominated occupations with the highest projected employment growth are in health care and care support work, such as personal care and home health aides. The median earnings in these jobs are less than $15 per hour.1
- Women are 87.7 percent of the healthcare and care support workforce of 4.5 million workers.2
- More than half of women in personal care and healthcare support jobs live in or near poverty.3
- Women are 94 percent of the early childhood care and education workforce.4
- More than one in four preschool and early education teachers live in or near poverty.5
- Three out of every four unpaid family caregivers are women.6
- One in five retirees left the workforce early to care for family.7
- One in three caregivers suffered a back injury in the prior 12 months.8
The Care Economy
Caregiving occupations such as nursing, personal and home health assistance, child care and preschool teaching are vitally important to the health of our society and economy. They are also low paying and overwhelmingly female.
As detailed in the Institute for Women’s Policy Research report, “Undervalued and Underpaid in America: Women in Low-Wage, Female-Dominated Jobs,” the concentration of women in these sectors is a significant driver behind the economic inequality between men and women and the disproportionate numbers of women living in poverty. Inequality is particularly stark for immigrant women and women of color in these jobs, the report shows. It also shows that these jobs are disproportionately held by mothers and single mothers. A large share of these women must also seek public assistance, despite working full time, just to keep their families fed and housed.
The demographic shift to an older population as the baby boom generation ages will continue to increase the demand for jobs in healthcare support roles. Absent changes to how this work and these workers are valued, disparities will continue to widen and families will remain trapped in generational poverty.
The report recommends policy changes that would raise wages and improve working conditions with fair scheduling and paid sick and family leave. Other recommendations include increasing investments in child care and elder care and providing education and training opportunities for women to rise into higher paying occupations.
Caregiving also takes the form of unpaid work assisting a family member, friend, or neighbor with daily life activities and medical tasks. There are an estimated 43 million unpaid caregivers in the country, more than 17 million of whom assist with a chronically sick or impaired family member.9 A significant majority (75%) are women. The work of providing personal care like helping the patient dress, bathe, and eat also falls mostly to women.10
This work takes a toll on these caregivers and their families. More than half (55%) report feeling overwhelmed and family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty than non-caregivers.11 The number of unpaid caregivers is expected to increase with the aging population.
The Community Fund for Women & Girls
The Community Fund for Women & Girls, a component fund established in 1995 at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, improves the quality of life for women and girls through strategic grantmaking, education and advocacy.
The Fund supports organizations that meaningfully impact women and girls and evaluates funding requests through a gender-specific grantmaking framework. The Fund only supports gender-specific programming and advocacy initiatives.
Recent grants to nonprofit partners include:
- All Our Kin to help female family child care providers increase their skills and capacity as business owners.
- Career Resources for job readiness training, subsidized internship experiences and placement assistance for formerly incarcerated women residing in New Haven.
- Solar Youth for a gender-focused leadership development program for girls ages 12-17.
- Women & Family Life Center to support a year-round financial literacy program for women to regain financial stability.
Nonprofit Partner Impact Supported by The Community Fund for Women & Girls
Building Wealth Through Entrepreneurship
A UCONN study of All Our Kin’s Tool Kit Licensing Program found that nearly 60% of participants reported earning at least $5,000 more the first year after becoming licensed to provide family child care. The same study also found that every $1 spent on the licensing program returned approximately $15 -$20 to society in gross regional product.13 All Our Kin also addresses the shortage of affordable quality child care for infants and toddlers so mothers can enter or stay in the workforce while having their child cared for in a safe environment.
Advocating for Rights
Mothers (and Others) for Justice, an advocacy group supported by Christian Community Action, Inc., helped successfully advocate for women living in poverty. Through their efforts, legislation was passed in 2014 enabling recipients of cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program the right to pursue an education without risk of losing assistance. Prior to the law, taking classes toward a GED or college degree — a critical path to raising one's income – did not count as eligible work credits, which are required by TANF.
Connecticut Women's Education Legal Fund (CWEALF) led the successful campaign for changes in the state’s paid family and medical leave legislation, making Connecticut’s protections the strongest in the nation. CWEALF also coordinates the Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls, a statewide network of allies and advocates for women and girls.
1. -5. Shaw, Elyse, Ariane Hegewisch, Emma Williams-Baron, and Barbara Gault. "Undervalued and Underpaid in America: Women in Low-Wage, Female-Dominated Jobs." Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2016.
Other Articles & Resources
- Out of the Shadows (NY Times Magazine by Lauren Hilgers)
- Invisible No More: Domestic Workers Organizing in Massachusettes and Beyond (by Natalicia Tracy, Tim Sieber and Susan Moir ScD)