This weekend only, get a Marketplace zip–up hoodie when you donate $8/month. Don’t wait — this offer ends at midnight Sunday!
We’re still trying to figure out the economic and social shifts spurred by the COVID-19 recession and subsequent recovery. How durable is working from home? Have the advantages of downtown business centers eroded, or is the rebound simply taking longer than expected?
But Marketplace’s senior economics contributor, Chris Farrell, argues that in contrast, what does seem incontrovertible is the need for greater investment in the nation’s troubled “care economy,” which provides support for the ill, the very young and the elderly and encompasses both paid and unpaid work.
Marketplace’s David Brancaccio spoke with Farrell about the state of the care economy and the strategies that might strengthen it. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: Let me hear your definition of the “care economy.”
Chris Farrell: It’s a catchphrase. And it’s commonly used, David, to capture both paid and unpaid work. You know, caring for children, for elders and others. And there’s this cottage industry of scholars from multiple disciplines, and they argue that the care economy should be considered as vital to the country’s infrastructure as more traditional investments like roads and bridges. And researchers have documented that a robust care infrastructure, it can promote greater labor force participation rates, especially among women, and therefore, support broad-based economic growth. There is no shortage of economic studies documenting over the years that care work is valuable.
Brancaccio: Valuable, yet in economic terms, not so much.
Farrell: No, but don’t you think the pandemic was a wake-up call? I mean, the experience showed how vital a robust care sector is to a well-functioning economy, especially the professional caregiving workforce. Professional caregivers, they enabled tens of millions of family caregivers to go to work in their respective occupations. This is why caregivers are often referred to as the workforce behind the workforce.
Brancaccio: And the market for this type of work is broken. I mean it may be that a child care center, to attract the talent they need, would like to raise the price of the child care, but parents often just can’t afford that.
Farrell: No, they really can’t afford it. And yet, you’re absolutely right, David, this is a low-wage occupation. You know, the jobs often don’t come with benefits. The workforce is overwhelmingly women, women of color and immigrants. And workers have been leaving caregiving with this tight labor market. I mean, they can do better at a fast-food restaurant or a warehouse. And that is so sad because all this caregiving skill is going to waste.
Brancaccio: So what, policy, I guess, maybe?
Farrell: I think so. I mean, the case is overwhelming. And a start could be caregiving tax credits and paid leave for family members to higher pay and ladders of career advancement for professional caregivers. We need large investments in child care, in the home, community-based care for elders, and they will more than pay for themselves by making it easier for people to earn the paychecks they need, yet provide care for those who need it.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.