New Op-Ed: Elizabeth Warren, Mary Kay Henry: Caregivers are essential workers. It's time we recognize them as such
Washington, DC - Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), published an op-ed on CNN.com on why we need big and bold improvements to the caregiving industry in America.
Read the full op-ed here and below.
CNN: Caregivers are essential workers. It's time we recognize them
March 26, 2021
By Elizabeth Warren and Mary Kay Henry
We all want the same things in life: health, security and promising futures for our families. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear how caregivers -- including child care, home care and nursing home workers -- are essential to achieving this vision. But families struggle to afford care, while care jobs remain undervalued, understaffed, underprotected and underpaid. It's time for Congress and President Joe Biden to make real change.
The vast majority of direct care workers -- a group that includes personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants who work in private homes, nursing homes and other settings -- are women (86%) and people of color (59%). The under-valuing of caregiving work is directly linked to racism and sexism, so it's not surprising that caregiving is consistently -- and wrongly -- devalued as "unskilled" and "women's work."
Caregiving jobs should be recognized for what they are: essential. This means paying a living wage of at least $15 an hour, improving working conditions, ensuring basic benefits like health care and paid sick time, and guaranteeing the right to a union so caregivers have a voice on the job.
In a bold step forward, Biden campaigned on a plan to address the full care spectrum. It's time for Congress and the President to make good on these promises and go even further with principled legislation and executive action to address caregiver needs.
One way to treat caregivers as the committed professionals that they are is to provide education and training opportunities with paid time off. But too many caregivers -- more than half of whom are Black or Latina -- can't afford to take time off, pay for school and still pay their bills. One survey found that private healthcare and social assistance workers have an average of $685 in monthly student loan payments. Biden can cancel up to $50,000 for every student loan debt holder and lift this crushing burden from caregivers.
Finally, caregivers deserve a pathway to citizenship, and any caregiving legislation must provide one. Thirty-one percent of home care workers and 22% of child care workers are immigrants. These dedicated caregivers deserve stability and a chance to live without fear, no matter their citizenship status or country of origin. A pathway to citizenship means caregivers can focus on providing quality care, rather than worrying about their families' security.
As Congress and the White House begin drafting caregiving legislation, we believe it must make bold, structural changes to the ways in which people receive and provide care. This isn't the time to nibble around the edges. We must reckon with what caregivers already know: The status quo is unacceptable, and we must build back better.
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