Caregiving has value — let’s prove it

10. 07. 2019

Modernizing the Earned Income Tax Credit through a Cost-of-Living Refund would expand what qualifies as compensated work.

Each day in this country, you or someone you know is likely doing work they’re not being compensated for. Whether it’s watching over a young child or caring for an elderly relative, it’s estimated we generate $3.67 trillion worth of care annually but only pay for $393 billion of it. Just this week, The New York Times covered the growing bipartisan push toward compensating caregivers — an effort we focus on through our Cost-of-Living Refund.

At the same time, three million workers are already engaged in the fastest-growing job in America as home care workers. Despite the rocketing demand for the challenging work required in the profession, a quarter of home care workers live in poverty, a reality complicated by long hours and no vacation.

We arrived at this point of precarity because this work has long been undervalued, as has the welfare of the people doing it. Historically, caretaking has been done by women, mostly women of color. This led to racist policies that excluded domestic workers from New Deal-era labor protections. Today, contractors are able to squeeze the wages of vulnerable workers, who have few options or the time and money to pursue other work. We need to fix this inequity, especially at a time when we have 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day.

That’s why a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, championed by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and its incomparable leader Ai-Jen Poo, would make a meaningful difference to caretakers like Marjorie, who is only paid for 13 hours a day but usually works for far longer, tending to her client in the middle of the night. It would allow caretakers like Angelica, who often works through holidays to care for her clients, the ability to spend Christmas with her family.

Another way to ensure the value of caregiving is elevated to its proper place is implementing Universal Family Care programs, which would provide long-term care insurance to all, and consolidate a “hodgepodge of living and care arrangements for the elderly and disabled,” as Courtney Martin describes in The New York Times. The costs and complexity of these systems cause many Americans to take on the job of caring for ailing family members themselves. Because we don’t guarantee paid family leave in the U.S., it often forces a worker to shift from full-time to part-time, to drain their retirement savings or to drop out of the workforce completely.

While these challenges are immense, they’re also an opportunity for guaranteed cash transfers to play a complementary role in the solution. Modernizing the Earned Income Tax Credit through a Cost-of-Living Refund would expand what qualifies as compensated work and would finally put a monetary value on the unpaid labor of caring for young children or sick relatives that so many, especially women, already do in this country each day.

There’s a better way to measure and reward the value that Americans are creating every day for each other, and we have the tools to do it. We hope you’ll join us in the effort to utilize them so that we finally create a society and economy in which we put real value on the work of caring for each other.