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. 


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

In Memoriam: Mariam K. Chamberlain, 1918–2013

MKC HeadshotBy Jennifer Clark

Dr. Mariam K. Chamberlain, a founding member of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women, was the driving force behind the cultivation and sustainability of the women’s studies field of academic research. She is the namesake of IWPR’s prestigious Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship for Women in Public Policy, which trains young women for successful careers in research. Throughout her life, Dr. Chamberlain fought discrimination, established new roles for women, and championed the economic analysis of women’s issues. She passed away on April 2, 2013, at 94, just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday, following complications from heart surgery.

A Lifetime of Lifting Up Women’s Voices in Academia and Research

The daughter of Armenian immigrants, Mariam Kenosian Chamberlain was born and raised in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a working class suburb of Boston. Interest in the prevailing conditions of the depression led her to economics. She attended Radcliffe College on a scholarship and worked as a research assistant in the summers for Wassily Leontief, who later won the Nobel Prize in economics. During World War II, she worked at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), on the staff of a “brain trust” of economists and other social scientists assembled by General William (“Wild Bill”) Donovan to aid in the war effort. As part of the research and analysis branch, she worked on estimates of enemy, military, and industrial strength.

In 1950, Mariam Chamberlain received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, making her one of the few women of her generation to earn a Ph.D. in the field. In 1956, Dr. Chamberlain joined the Ford Foundation, where she served as a program officer in Economic Development and Administation, and then Education and Public Policy, until 1981. While at Ford, she spearheaded the funding of the academic women’s research and women’s studies movement; she is said to have provided nearly $10 million in support of new feminist initiatives. Her projects fostered a new analysis of women’s position in society, expanded women’s choices in the university, and supported the development of equality in law. She played a major role in building the academic infrastructure necessary to better understand women’s experiences and inform improved policies for women. In short, she paved the way for organizations like IWPR to thrive, and stocked the research pipeline with skilled women and men who have made important contributions to the study of women and public policy.

Economics and the elimination of discrimination against women around the world remained the heart of her wide-ranging activities. After leaving the Ford Foundation in 1982, she headed the Task Force on Women in Higher Education at the Russell Sage Foundation. The Task Force’s work culminated in a published volume, Women in Academe: Progress and Prospects. Before leaving Ford, she had funded an initial meeting of a group of women’s research centers. That meeting established the National Council for Research on Women, which unanimously elected her its first president. She served in that role until 1989, after which she continued to go into the office every day as Founding President and Resident Scholar.

Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.
Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.

A Legacy of Training the Next Generation of Women Policy Researchers

IWPR owes much to Dr. Chamberlain. In 1987, Dr. Heidi Hartmann founded IWPR out of a need for comprehensive, women-focused, policy-oriented research. Dr. Chamberlain, who dedicated her career to lifting up women’s voices in academia, recognized the importance of a policy research institute centered on women, grounded by social science methodology, economics, and rigorous data analysis. Applying academic research to inform better policies for women was a natural extension of Dr. Chamberlain’s work, and she became a founding member of IWPR and served on its Board of Directors for nearly 20 years.

IWPR endowed the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship in Women and Public Policy to recognize the legacy of Dr. Chamberlain’s tireless efforts to open doors for the women researchers who came after her. Nearly 20 young women have gained valuable research experience as Fellows at IWPR since the beginning of the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship. Past Mariam K. Chamberlain scholars have gone on to hold positions at government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Congressional Research Service, earn advanced degrees from universities such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Stanford University, The George Washington University, and Brown University. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, IWPR’s current Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow, was just recently named a 2013 Rhodes Scholar. The fellowship has allowed IWPR to expand its research capacity, strengthen its commitment to cultivating the next generation of women researchers and leaders, and ensure that a pipeline of experienced women researchers are at the policy-making table.

The fellowship helps sustain Dr. Chamberlain’s legacy, built on the belief that relying on credible data and research, rather than anecdote and bias, leads to better policies for working women, which in turn contribute to improved long-term outcomes for their families. May she not only rest in peace, but rest assured that, because of her efforts, there are many more women able to take up the torch she leaves behind.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org