Since the beginning of the pandemic, one in five health care workers has left their job. They’ve been joined in leaving by a historic number of low-wage workers in other industries. Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M University, predicted this wave of quits, calling it the Great Resignation. When a title is written before the story, it’s always going to drive the narrative. Most analyses of the Great Resignation begin with the premise that it is a trend about worker choice. There’s not a lot of agreement about what their choices mean. Some say the Great Resignation proves the market works for workers, as they are choosing to leave poorly paying jobs for better-paying jobs. An argument that is strictly true but often neglects to mention that those better-paying jobs still pay well below a living wage. Others argue the high number of quits simply proves a high level of laziness. In a recent TINYpulse survey, one in five executives agreed with the statement, “No one wants to work.” A statement belied by the fact that most workers are not dropping out of the labor force.
The people who left the workforce often cite unpaid care work as the reason for quitting paid work. Others blame care scarcity in America. A childcare worker labor shortage means fewer parents, especially mothers, at work. It’s difficult to chalk the care worker shortage up to workers having more choices. Most childcare workers are not paid enough to pay for their own children’s childcare. What choice is there in poverty?
None of those narratives tell Lagemann’s story. She didn’t have a higher-paying job lined up when she fled the nursing facility. She’d been so determined to keep working she took a second job at a distant nursing facility. And her story isn’t really about care scarcity. Care is the one thing that’s abundant in Lagemann’s story. Her mother and aunt cared. Her grandmother cared. Lagemann certainly cared. And the man who shouted after her as she left the nursing home cared. Care isn’t scarce in her story; it is under pressure from capitalism’s exploitation.
“Your mother,” he told us, “has multiple sclerosis.” Whatever that was. I carried on with my day like any other on that trip, going swimming, having...