Informing policy. Inspiring change. Improving lives.
1200 18th Street NW, Suite 301
Washington, DC 20036
202 785-5100
iwpr@iwpr.org

The Real Value of In-Home Care Work in the United States

Care worker with elderly womanBy Caroline Dobuzinskis

Baby Boomers, estimated at nearly 80 million in the United States, began turning 65 in 2011.By 2020, the population of older adults is expected to grow to 55 million from 40.4 million in 2010. As more women enter the labor force and fewer are able to care for older family members, providing in-home care to the growing aging population, as well as the disabled and chronically ill, is becoming more critical to a robust U.S. economy.

A new briefing paper by IWPR, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” outlines these challenges but emphasizes that, despite the growing demand, in-home care work jobs continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

While often working long hours to care for others, many in-home care workers cannot afford to take care of their own needs. According to IWPR’s analysis, the median weekly earnings for all female in-home care workers are $308, compared with $560 for all female workers in the U.S. workforce. In-home care workers are also excluded from coverage by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that helps ensure basic standards of living for U.S. workers by requiring employers to pay minimum wages and provide overtime compensation.

The general lack of value placed on paid care work is due to a number of complex factors. Research suggests that what is seen as traditionally women’s labor, at all skill levels, reaps lower economic rewards. The simple fact that the majority of paid care work is performed by women could contribute to its lower average wages. Care work also blurs the lines between formal and informal labor, which can result in the workers being perceived as part of the family and make it more difficult for them to set boundaries that define the requirements and terms of their jobs.

Many in-home care workers are immigrants who may lack pathways to legal status, leaving them vulnerable to low levels of pay and to abuses from employers. According to IWPR research analysis, 90 percent of home health care aides in the United States are women, 56 percent are women of color, and 28 percent are foreign-born with the vast majority (60 percent) migrating from Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the fact that these immigrant workers are filling an essential labor gap, many remain undocumented and without clear access to citizenship or visa status. Many domestic worker and immigrant groups are waiting to see if Congress will address this issue.

Among the recommendations in IWPR’s report, Increasing Pathways to Legal Status for Immigrant in-Home Care Workers (published February 2013), is an increase in the number and types of immigration visas available to immigrant care workers to help fill the labor shortage in the U.S. industry. The most recent immigration deal being crafted the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of U.S. senators tasked with finding immigration reform solutions, includes an option to provide temporary work visas to undocumented immigrants performing essential, low-skilled labor.

IWPR’s briefing paper, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” proposes several changes that would improve circumstances for all care workers and recipients, as well as the industry as whole, including:

1. Encouraging public dialogue about the growing need for care work and the skills and contributions of those who provide in-home care

2. Improving estimates of the value of unpaid care work and making the public more aware of this work’s critical importance to the nation’s economy.

3. Implementing public policies that affirm the value of care work and those who provide it.

4. Creating more quality in-home care work jobs that will improve the employment prospects of the female workforce, help to reduce inequality, and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Many groups and organizations, such as Caring Across Generations, support improved workers rights for care workers nationwide. New York State passed a law entitling domestic workers to, among other provisions, a minimum wage, pay for overtime hours, one day of rest for every seven days, and at least three paid leave days per year after one year of work for the same employer. Further policies are still needed that affirm the value of care work in order to reduce the inequality in wages for these workers and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

Addressing Concerns of Immigrant Women Helps Communities Nationwide

by Claudia Williams

In recent years, the United States has experienced one of the largest waves of immigration in its history. The immigrant population has almost doubled since the 1990’s and the number of undocumented female immigrants has increased significantly. Immigrant women also make up more than half of new legal immigrants arriving to the United States.

While many immigrant women come to the United States in search of better opportunities, they are often vulnerable to poverty and discrimination and face many barriers in their day to day life, making it harder for them to achieve economic security and to advance in their careers.

Public policies are fundamental to integrating immigrant women into U.S. society. The U.S. Congress,  however, has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform to address the complex challenges our current immigration system creates. In the absence of reform at the national level, many states and localities have introduced and passed anti-immigrant legislation. This is particularly unfortunate for immigrant women, who besides sharing risks with their male counterparts also experience particular difficulties that are more common or unique to them.

IWPR recently released a study that identified some of the challenges Latina immigrants face, such as limited proficiency in English, disproportionate exposure to violence and harassment, and lower earnings and rates of educational attainment. Also, as caregivers, immigrant women are more affected than their male counterparts by the lack of affordable and reliable child care and reproductive health services.

IWPR’s research also found that constant fears of deportation and family separation have led many immigrant women to live in the shadows. Immigrant women may be working “under the table,” without having access to quality jobs and educational opportunities, mainly due to their immigration status. Resulting economic instability prevents immigrant women from contributing fully to our society—we lose valuable resources that could help our country move forward.

Advocacy and service organizations working on the ground with immigrants recognize that an overhaul of the current immigration system is needed. However, advocates and researchers also need to focus more on the concerns of immigrant women. In most policy discussions little or nothing is said about how certain policies (such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), 287(g) and Comprehensive Immigration Reform) would specifically affect women. IWPR’s study found that the limited attention women’s issues receive is an important gap within the immigration grassroots and advocacy movement. Out of 280 organizations interviewed for the IWPR study, only eight advocated with a specific focus on the rights and needs of immigrant women.

A better understanding of women’s challenges and circumstances would represent an important step forward in filling this gap. Many of the issues directly affecting women also affect men and children, so addressing these challenges would be beneficial to the entire immigrant community.

Claudia Williams is a research analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women and Immigration

http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/organizations-working-with-latina-immigrants-resources-and-strategies-for-changeby Mallory Mpare

The U.S. has often been dubbed the “nation of immigrants” and this is no less true today.  However, the face of immigration has drastically changed while policies and practices have failed to adapt. There is a long history of immigrant men seeking opportunity in—well—the land of opportunity by working to provide for families, often left behind in their countries of origin.

No longer is this the singular scenario.

Immigrant women have increasingly sought to reunite their families while also seeking new employment and educational opportunities in the U.S. for themselves. Instead of being met with uplifting and economically empowering opportunities, these women experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence, on the job violence, employment discrimination, and sexual exploitation.

At an IWPR release event on March 25 at the Woodrow Wilson Center for the report, Organizations Working With Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, Sara Manzano-Díaz, Director of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, noted that “comprehensive immigration reform is part of winning the future.” The report notes that, currently, nonprofit organizations and congregations play an integral role in advancing the rights and well being of immigrant families.

In the report, IWPR explored how nonprofits and congregations work with immigrant women, especially low-income Latinas, to better enable them to safely navigate through life in a new, and sometimes hostile, environment. The report notes that although these organizations serve as a vital resource to immigrant women, they face obstacles such as negative public dialogue, restrictive policies and an ever dwindling funding stream which hinder their ability to meet the full needs of immigrant women.

While increasing immigrant women’s access to resources is important, if immigrant women must seek out these resources in a hostile environment, their access will surely remain limited. Of the 280 groups in the study, 120 are involved in some type of advocacy, and seek change a social and political structure which—they feel—deny the rights of immigrant women. Immigrant rights— like women’s rights and human rights—are about preserving personal agency, and allowing space and resources for people to make decisions about their own lives and the lives of their families.

In her presentation at the Wilson Center, Cynthia Hess, Study Director and co-author of the report outlined the wide range of services that nonprofit organizations offer to immigrant women such as English classes, child care, health services, and access to affordable transportation. She noted that, in many cases, religious groups have stepped in to provide services when the government has not, and that a climate of fear—for both documented and undocumented immigrants—may prevent Latina immigrants from seeking services. Fear of being pulled over by the authorities can even lead immigrants to avoid driving.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that IWPR’s report was released on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. Many of the victims of that tragedy were working immigrant women and girls. In the days leading up to the Triangle factory tragedy, women organized around their concerns , protesting and forming unions to protect their interests.  However, one well-known factory, The Triangle, refused to recognize these unions and would face tragic consequences as a result.

IWPR’s report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants, also shows that there are consequences for ignoring the needs of immigrant women and the challenges they face in trying to earn a living in their adopted country.

Other speakers and panelists at the March 25 launch event included Sonya Michel, Director of the United States Studies program at the Wilson Center; Patricia Foxen, Associate Director of Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Pierluigi Mancini, Executive Director of CETPA (professional mental health counseling services for the Latino community); Jen Smyers, Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service; Cecilia Menjívar, Cowden Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Arizona State University; Lydia Guzman, President of Somos America; and, Mary Odem, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and History at Emory University. Speaking on behalf of IWPR were Heidi Hartmann, President, and co-authors of the report and Study Directors, Jane Henrici and Cynthia Hess.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Go to Home Page