Better Life Lab

Caregiving in America—the Dignity Gap

Home care jobs are among the fastest-growing jobs in America. Yet compensation for this essential work is dismal. Can the system be fixed?


Episode Notes

In the future, robots may take over tasks such as doling out medications. But no machine can raise a child or truly care for a disabled, ill or aging loved one.

And home care jobs are projected to be among the fastest-growing jobs in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects care jobs will grow 33 percent by 2029. By some estimates, 70 percent of people over 65 soon will require long-term care.

But care jobs are also, for the most part, poverty-wage jobs. They are low-paying, stressful, emotionally taxing, unpredictable and precarious. Half of all care workers in America earn so little that they qualify for public benefits. Nine out of 10 home health workers are women, 62 percent are people of color and one-third are immigrants.

In what many scholars say was an overt act of white supremacy and patriarchy, care workers were excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. They were denied the federal right to organize and collectively bargain, demand a minimum wage or overtime pay. What would the future of care work look like if they could?

Brittany Williams, home care worker living in Washington state, and a member of a union representing caregivers.
Danielle Williams, Brittany’s mother, a home care worker in Arkansas. She earns about half of what Brittany does, and few benefits.
Ai-Jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and a MacArthur “Genius” award winner named among the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune.


Working While Caring: A National Survey of Caregiver Stress in the U.S. Workforce, Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers
Mother and Daughter do the same job. Why does one make $9 more an hour?, Brigid Schulte & Cassandra Robertson
Professional Caregiving men find meaning and price in their work, but still face stigma, Brigid Schulte, Emily Hallgren, Roselyn Miller


About the Show

Economists say the way we work has become so stressful it’s now the fifth leading cause of death. Our mission is to find a better way. Explore the art and science of living a full and healthy life with behavioral and social science researchers who can help us better understand what drives our human experiences, and how to change. Better Life Lab is a co-production from New America and Slate. All episodes