Meeting the Moment: Overcoming Occupational Segregation and the Systemic Devaluing of Women’s Work - Early Learning Nation

Meeting the Moment: Overcoming Occupational Segregation and the Systemic Devaluing of Women’s Work

These remarks were delivered on September 22 at the Equity in Focus Summit (cohosted by the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau and The Worker Institute  at Cornell University), in response to the panel question, How does addressing inequities in the care economy help overcome occupational segregation and the systemic devaluing of women’s work, and what is philanthropy’s role?

The Care for All with Respect and Equity (CARE) Fund brings together a diverse range of funders to invest $50 million over 5 years in movement building for a universal publicly supported care infrastructure.

We take a holistic approach to care and caregiving across the lifecycle and across generations. This means policies and programs that improve the livelihoods of paid and unpaid caregivers and the quality of care for all who need it.

Why have so many major foundations decided that this is the moment to invest in a holistic approach to the care economy? I like to say that the pandemic ripped the invisibility cloak off of really deep truths about care that had been hidden in plain sight for so long.

Care is at the crux of systems of oppression by gender, race, age, ability, immigration status and family structure. Winning robust care systems and supports can be a linchpin for unraveling these legacies of oppression.

As SJ [Sarah Jane Glynn, Senior Advisor, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor] so clearly explained, the pandemic demonstrated that care is not only essential to thriving families, but also fundamental to a thriving equitable economy.

Investing in the care economy impacts both the supply and demand for labor in dynamic and reinforcing ways:

The professionals who provide essential care, education and personal supports to children, older adults and people with disabilities, are among the lowest compensated workers in our economy. They are predominantly women and disproportionately women of color and immigrants who barely make minimum wage and rarely receive benefits.

At the same time, most workers are also caregivers or need care to thrive in their workplaces and communities. Because in our society women take on the majority of care responsibilities, inadequate child care, paid leave and long term services and supports hinders women’s ability to get jobs, stay in jobs, move up career ladders, and accumulate assets for financial security in retirement.

Families cannot afford the care they need and at the same time, care workers receive poverty wages. To address the affordability gap and fuel our economy we need massive public investments in care.

This brings me back to the CARE Fund and our theory of change: We believe we need to resource all the movements for care and support them to come together to build the power needed to generate the political will for bold public investments that meet the needs of workers, families, and consumers. That’s why we’ve been supporting movement building networks and coalition tables organizing and advocating for care at the federal and state levels.

Moving forward, we will continue to support movement building, narrative and culture change, policy innovation—and most relevant to today’s discussion—implementation for equity.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) includes historic investments in care—almost $40 billion for child care and $13 billion for home and community-based services and billions that states and localities have discretion to use for paid leave and other family-friendly policies. As we’ve been discussing today, there are also many other streams of federal money going to states, localities and tribes. There is a huge opportunity to use these funds strategically to deliver equity.

What does equitable implementation mean when it comes to care policies and programs?

First, no matter what the policy, it is essential that all stakeholders are at the table as plans are designed and implemented—that means care workers, parents and other family caregivers and people with disabilities.

Second, whether we are talking about child care or home care, given occupational segregation, equity means dedicating funds to improving care jobs. Almost all states are using ARPA dollars to improve home care worker compensation and over half of states are increasing compensation for child care workers. But given the time limited nature of these funds, unfortunately most of these are one-time or temporary increases.

Third, across sectors, training opportunities have the potential to improve the quality of jobs and the quality of care. However, to be equitable, these training opportunities must be affordable and accessible to the predominantly women of color incumbent workers; otherwise, they risk being displaced.

There are also many ways to bake equity into specific care programs and policies.

In child care, as we’ve heard from other panelists, women in construction as well as in more traditional sectors such as retail and hospitality, need child care at all hours because of their volatile work schedules. Equity also means targeting funds to historically underinvested communities and coordinating programs—such as child care, home visiting, mental health and early intervention services—to effectively serve families with complex needs.

As states use federal dollars to invest in Home and Community Based Services, they have many opportunities to expand eligibility, for example to children with disabilities, and to make it easier for consumers to apply for benefits and find care providers.

And for years, paid leave advocates have been learning what it takes to make programs equitable, including progressive wage replacement, broad family definition and culturally appropriate outreach and education with trusted messengers.

Given the incredible opportunity presented by ARPA and the other federal funding streams we are discussing today, many of the movement-building groups we’ve been funding—like Caring Across Generations, National Domestic Workers Alliance and Family Values @ Work—are deeply engaged in making sure these policies are implemented equitably. We will soon be announcing an additional set of grants to organizations that are providing technical assistance to state and Tribal administrators to help them implement these funds equitably. Equally importantly, many of them will also be providing regrants to local advocates to hold these administrators accountable, and to document and tell the stories of impact in order to build the case for permanent funding.

Anna Shireen Wadia is the Executive Director of the Care for All with Respect and Equity (CARE) Fund. The CARE Fund brings diverse funders together to invest in movement building for universal publicly supported care infrastructures that will fuel economies, improve the wellbeing of kids and families, create millions of good jobs, promote equity, and enable people with disabilities and older adults to live independently with safety and dignity. At the Ford Foundation, the Ms. Foundation for Women, and her own consulting practice, Anna has nurtured and propelled movements for care and built bridges among funders and advocates across the care continuum.

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