Our current conversation about caregiving, driven by school shutdowns, Covid outbreaks in nursing homes, and the mass exodus of women from the workforce, may feel new, but the truth is that the root problem isn’t new—it’s just new to the spotlight. For years, we have quietly been struggling—often painfully and in isolation—with the pressures and impossible choices related to caring for our families. From child care to home care, Covid-19 helped us see that, while our families are indeed our responsibility, it’s not our fault that we struggle to manage or afford the care we need. We need public policy solutions, now more than ever.
Each day in the United States, more than 10,000 babies are born, needing constant care, and 10,000 people turn 65 as the baby boomers age into retirement. We also live longer now, thanks to advancements in health care. As more mothers participate in the workforce, and our aging loved ones prefer to age in place rather than in a nursing home, our society’s caregiving needs continue to grow. In fact, care work in the home—specifically home health aides and personal care aides—is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the nation, and expected to increase 34 percent from 2019 to 2029. Meanwhile, most American workers earn less than $50,000 (making it tough to afford child care and long-term care), and most workers in the care economy, disproportionately Black, Latinx, Native, and AAPI women, including many immigrants, earn poverty wages, and cannot care for themselves or their own families in the profession.
Fortunately, a movement of caregivers has been growing alongside the simmering crisis. Led by women and women of color, the movement has been building constituency, power, and solutions from the bottom up, for decades.
What my research participant made clear to me that day is that the lack of robust and accessible social programs for long-term care is merely a...