For women of color in care work, racial and economic inequalities abound, report finds
The pandemic has glaringly exposed this “often overlooked backbone of our social and economic structure,” the report notes. Child care centers closed, nursing homes were overrun by COVID, and home care was harder to come by but desperately needed.
In Massachusetts, women make up about 85% of home care workers and employees of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, and 92% of child care workers, according to the report. while Latino, black and immigrant women make up a disproportionate share of those working in home and long-term care. Black workers make up 24% of home care workers and 43% of those employed in the state’s long-term care facilities, despite making up just 7% of the workforce.
These workers are less likely than the average employee to have employer-provided health insurance or retirement plans, and are more likely to be on MassHealth, the state Medicaid program. Nearly a third of home care workers in the state are enrolled in SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps.
Median hourly wages across the three subsectors ranged from $13 to nearly $16 an hour based on the 2016-2020 census data used in the report — just over half the median hourly wage at the statewide. Wages have risen across the economy over the past two years, but the salary of social workers is still likely half that of the state median.
Even controlling for education levels, required skills and job characteristics, social workers are paid 5-15% less than similar workers, the report notes.
The roots of this inequity go back to slavery, the report says, when many black women were forced into caring roles. And it didn’t end with emancipation. Many freed slaves were forced into indentured servitude to care for white families and then were excluded, along with other women of color, from better paying and less physically demanding jobs, said Mignon Duffy, a professor of sociology at UMass-Lowell whose research is featured in the report. These jobs were then excluded from the early 20th century labor protections that elevated many other professions. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that federal minimum wage protections were expanded to include most social workers.
All of these factors, along with cultural norms that women are natural caregivers, have resulted in today’s workforce of women of color in low-paying and largely invisible jobs, Duffy said. Overall, care work spans a number of sectors, from health care to education to social services, which account for around a quarter of all jobs.
“Care work is very central to understanding racial and gender inequalities around the world and in the United States,” Duffy said. “They are inextricably linked.”
“For those of us who are interested in dismantling sexism and racism, you need to pay attention to the care sector in particular.”
The results come as no surprise to Maria Castro, 55, a personal care worker from Roslindale who works 64 hours a week caring for three people during $17.71 per hour plus overtime. Castro, who is from the Dominican Republic, has been working throughout the pandemic, preparing food, administering medicine and providing assistance — just like a family would, she said. She supports her 85-year-old mother, who lives with her, as do her two daughters in their twenties, whom Castro helped pay for college and beautician training.
Castro served on his union’s bargaining committee and recently ratified a new contract that includes a racial justice committee to address discrimination.
“It seems like only people of color are doing this job – that’s why [society doesn’t] consider this important,” Castro said in Spanish, through an interpreter. “At the time, it was slave labor.”
And as the population ages, the demand for workers in the care sector is expected to increase significantly.
The number of Greater Boston residents over the age of 65 is expected to increase by more than 50% between 2020 and 2040, and the number of people over 85 nationwide is expected to triple by 2060. Between 2018 and 2028 , personal care and home help jobs are expected to grow nearly 20% statewide, while jobs overall are expected to grow less than 3%.
“I have truly become convinced through this research that improving the quality of care work should be at the top of any agenda to advance racial equity in Massachusetts,” said report co-author Luc Schuster.
Upgrading these jobs would also reduce staff turnover and provide more stability for families receiving care, he noted, “There is a really direct relationship between the quality of the jobs we provide in this sector. and the quality of care they are able to provide. .”
The risk of contracting COVID has made these jobs more dangerous in recent years, but they have always been dangerous. In 2019, practical nurses who work in care facilities and in people’s homes had a higher rate of non-fatal injuries or illnesses than any other worker – more than truck drivers, laborers and movers, the report notes.
To improve these jobs, the report recommends raising the minimum wage and Medicaid reimbursement rates, making training and career advancement more accessible, and licensing home care agencies, among other policy changes. Politics. Many institutions in the care sector have limited budgets, the report acknowledges, making it essential to couple changes that increase labor costs with increases in public funding.
The problems in the care industry go far beyond the jobs themselves, noted James Fuccione, head of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative, which consulted on the report. A licensing process for home care agencies in particular would mean more oversight and policies that could bolster jobs. Workers also need affordable housing and a reliable public transit system. “This is a community issue,” he said.
Significant investment and policy changes are also needed in early childhood education, according to advocacy group Strategies for Children, which contributed to the report. The Massachusetts Senior Care Association said it is working to retain nursing facility workers and promote career growth, noting that increased government funding was essential to pay employees a living wage.
Preschool teacher Kiya Savannah wants improvements at a job she loves, but isn’t sure she can afford to keep it. The only place Savannah, 31, can afford to live with her 3-year-old daughter is an in-laws apartment she rents from her parents in Brockton.
Savannah, who is black, is worried about what will happen when she has to start paying back her student loan again in January on the $40,000 she will still owe after the federal loan forgiveness program kicked off. To avoid dipping into savings set aside for her daughter, she could start making deliveries for DoorDash again, as she did when her hours were reduced at the start of the pandemic. She’s also considering getting a master’s degree, which could mean taking on more debt.
“I haven’t found a way to solve this problem,” she said.
It’s become increasingly difficult to steer job seekers into care jobs, said Andre Green, executive director of SkillWorks, a workforce development partnership between the Boston Foundation and the city. of Boston who contributed to the report. Jobs shouldn’t just make people “less poor”, he said, especially the crucial care roles that many people will need at some point in their lives.
“We know how important these jobs are,” he said. “Why don’t we as a society do this? »