What Does the Jobs Report – and My Grandmother’s Cookbook – Tell Us About the Care Economy? | #JobsDay April 2024

by | Apr 5, 2024 | Fair Pay

For this jobs report, which lands as we kick off Care Workers Recognition Month, we are looking at how care jobs are faring in our economy. For me, like so many Americans, care work – both paid and unpaid – is personal. My grandmother worked the 3pm-11pm shift at a nursing home when I was growing up. It was a challenging and difficult job that meant she lived paycheck-to-paycheck most of the time. It was also, as many care jobs are, filled with moments of joy. I remember going to see her at work and spending time with her patients – they enjoyed having young children to entertain them and we enjoyed sitting on the edge of beds that moved up and down at the push of a button (it was the 1980s and this passed as high-end technology).

So how are care workers like my grandmother faring today? We have tracked three care industries – nursing and residential care facilities, child care, and home health care – since before COVID and found that the recovery for caregiving jobs overall still lags behind the economy as a whole. Caregiving jobs are up 1 percent since February 2020 compared to 4 percent for the economy overall. But stories across these industries diverge. Nursing and residential care jobs are still below their pre-COVID levels, child care jobs have just barely recovered, and home health care has soared, potentially representing a shift in how Americans are getting their care.

This growth in home health care is not unexpected: home health and personal care aides are projected to add more than 800,000 jobs in the next decade – more than any other job in the nation. And as more people age, these jobs will be critical for families and the economy.

But examining the care economy is not just about how many jobs there are – it is also about the quality of those jobs. Caregiving jobs often have low pay and few benefits – and that is not by chance. As National Partnership President Jocelyn Frye testified to the Senate Finance Committee last fall, “‘Women’s work’ has often involved care work, disproportionately performed by women of color for little or no pay. Such work is frequently seen as not having real value even though it is essential to the sustainability and well-being of families.” National Partnership research underscores these disparities, finding that Black women are especially likely to work as personal care and home health aides, while American Indian and Alaska Native women are overrepresented as personal care aides and child care workers.

Caregiving jobs also matter not only to the women who hold them, but for our entire society. Caregiving jobs help support women entering and remaining in the workforce in a society that still largely pushes caregiving labor on to women. In fact, our work shows that Americans’ unpaid caregiving – two-thirds of which is done by women – is worth nearly $1 trillion each year.

I still have the cookbook my grandmother, the other staff and many of the residents wrote to help raise funds to support the nursing home. The book, which my grandmother and her friends on the “cookbook committee” typed themselves (yes, on typewriters!) is full of gems like “Dot Dupont’s Bean Casserole” and “New England Yam Bake,” as well as my personal favorite, “Bricks,” which is covered in my mother’s own scrawled updates and substitutions (because what would baking be without some family disagreements over how many chocolate chips to include?).

While I treasure this book, I can’t help but wish it didn’t have to exist. Investments in caregiving shouldn’t have to come from care workers and care recipients themselves. These investments – which are essential to the future of our economy – should come from our public policies. We needed them when my grandmother was a care worker in the 1980s and we need them even more urgently now. Care can’t wait.

Read my full analysis of today’s Jobs Report on Twitter.

Click to open the full tweet thread in a new window.