Over 200 home care workers, advocates and partners gathered at Federal plaza yesterday afternoon for the #CareIsEssential Rally. They demanded better union jobs with living wages. They also emphasized the urgency in prioritizing an industry led by women of color in recovery plans. At a news conference held before the rally, Democrat US Representatives Robin Kelly and Jan Schakowsky spoke.
“Now more than ever, we have seen that care work — done mostly by women of color and immigrant women — is the work that makes all other work possible. These courageous care workers, who bore the brunt of COVID-19’s overlapping crises and got our nation through the pandemic, are the very same women who will ensure our economy recovers from it,” said Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “The services and support that care workers and unpaid family caregivers provide enable millions of Americans to live and thrive with independence and stay connected to the people and places we love. We all have a stake in valuing care, especially as our nation ages. As we chart a safe, brighter future for all our families, we MUST value care workers as the essential workers they are and center the human infrastructure that makes our economy run. This means investing in good, union, and living-wage jobs for all care workers in addition to things like roads and bridges.”
The day of action comes as Congress moves to make major decisions on whether and how to invest in care in support of President Biden’s plan to invest $400 billion in the nation’s home care workforce. As the House and Senate both move historic legislation on home care and debate infrastructure and reconciliation packages to fuel America’s economic recovery, workers and advocates say, the country cannot fully recover without investing in care.
They called on Congress to pass President Biden’s care plan, which would create a million new care jobs, lift up historically underpaid and undervalued care workers, and address skyrocketing needs for care. Home care is the nation’s fastest-growing job sector. The U.S. will need to fill an estimated 4.7 million home care jobs, including over one million new jobs, by 2028. An investment in home- and community-based services would help meet the ballooning demand for care and establish a pipeline of home care workers into the next generation by transforming care jobs into good, living wage, union jobs with training opportunities and real career pathways.
“Before us is a tremendous opportunity our nation can’t afford to lose: President Biden has listened to home care workers and proposed a $400 billion investment in home- and community-based services. The plan will tackle the dual crisis of access to care and shortage of good jobs that’s holding our entire economy back,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the 2-million member Service Employees International Union. “It’s also the first-ever jobs program aimed at providing career paths and good, union, living-wage jobs for a majority-women-of-color workforce. Congress must meet this moment not only with jobs, but with justice for care workers and care for our communities.”
The day of action focused on three demands: jobs, care and justice for the 2.3 million home care workers in the U.S., of whom 87% are women, 62% are people of color, and one in three are immigrants. They called for a minimum wage of $15/hour, paid time off and benefits, and the opportunity to join a union for all care workers nationwide.
“Our lives depend upon one another — we cannot truly thrive when structural racism, sexism and ableism are holding us back. People with disabilities know that their lives are at stake when the supports they need to live in the community disappear, and home services workers, who are majority Black and brown women, receive poverty wages for their essential work,” said Amber Smock, director of advocacy at Access Living, a disability rights and services organization based in Chicago. “Our current support system is not sustainable. Both people with disabilities and the workers who provide direct supports need long term, real investment in expanding and stabilizing our home and community care infrastructure.”
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20.