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What If America Really Invested in The Caring Economy?

Amy Traub

The nation is experiencing a crisis of care. Across the country, parents are trapped in an economic bind without paid leave or affordable child care, even as older Americans and people with disabilities contend with their own unmet needs for care. At the same time, we face a desperate need for good jobs. While unemployment has fallen, millions of working people still struggle to make ends meet with low wages, precarious work schedules, and a lack of basic benefits and job security. A well-designed set of investments in the caring economy could address both the critical need for care and the equally critical need for good jobs.

 A thorough new study from Nina Dastur, Indivar Dutta-Gupta and their research team at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality proposes a design for investment in the caring economy and details its multiple benefits: boosting the national economy, generating good jobs, raising the quality of caregiving jobs that currently exist, and improving the wellbeing of those receiving care as well as the family members who often forgo paid employment and income to provide the care their loved ones need. This thoughtful proposal is a sharp contrast to the recklessly slashed budgets and window-dressing paid leave proposal of the Trump administration.

The Georgetown proposal on “Building the Caring Economy” includes:

  • A national paid family and medical leave program.
  • Increasing wages for caregivers. Using a wage pass-through to states, the federal government would increase the pay of caregivers whose work is already funded through the Child Care Development Block Grant and other federal programs. By setting federal wage floors for care workers based on their training and educational attainment—including a minimum of $15 per hour—the proposal would raise incomes, promote equity and improve worker retention without reducing the availability of formal care.
  • Expanding access to early care and education. The researchers propose providing early care and education to all children under age 5 in families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level who are not currently in a regular care arrangement. Subsidized classes would operate full-time, full-year, and parents would pay no more than 7 percent of their income toward the costs of care. Such a program would cost an estimated $62 billion per year and would directly create approximately 1.3 million permanent jobs, generating an estimated $70.9 billion in short-term contribution to federal tax revenues, reduction in the use of public benefit programs, and increased local economic activity.
  • Expanding and streamlining access to long-term care. The proposal establishes a universal catastrophic long-term care insurance program as a component of or companion to Medicare, and finances an enhanced federal matching rate for Medicaid to expand access to long-term care more immediately.
  • Investing in developing the care workforce. Enhanced opportunities for training and education would improve the quality of caregiving jobs, the quality of care provided, and the possibilities for career advancement for formal caregivers. The study recommends standardizing and financing pre-service training infrastructure and investing in training and professional development for current caregiving workers in child care, elder care and care for people with disabilities.

 Across the nation, caregivers are disproportionately female, and the caregiving workforce is largely made up of women of color and immigrant women. Their work is crucial to our society and our economy, yet is systematically underpaid and undervalued, producing the crisis of care and contributing to the crisis of good jobs we confront today. The Georgetown researchers’ proposal for substantial public investment in the caring economy—focused on caregiving workers, families, and the wellbeing of children and adults receiving care—is a welcome addition to the national conversation.