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Your Suggestions for Valuing Care Work
It takes more than a paycheck (though that's a start)
Last week, I asked you Is money the only way to value care work? and I’ve appreciated your thoughtful responses about how we subtly (and not-so subtly!) devalue women’s work, as well as your suggestions for how to push back.
There were more great responses than I can fit in this email, so do feel free to poke around the original comment thread, and I promise to return to this topic.
And while we’re talking about money and value, I’ve turned on paid subscriptions for Other Feminisms, but they represent more of a free will offering, not a premium tier. Paid subscribers don’t get anything extra, but they do get to help me make time for this otherwise unpaid project and feel better about saying no to some paid writing to make time for it.
Katie had an excellent comment about how care work is treated when people return to the conventional workplace:
If one has taken time out of the paid working world to be a full-time caregiver, it is often recommended to leave the experience off of one's resume entirely. Unfortunately, the underlying message of that recommendation is "the last x amount of years you spent caring for your children/loved one have not contributed to your ability to be a competent or qualified employee,” which, following that thread of thought, translates into: “Investing in your loved one’s care is a waste of your time and talent.”
[…] When someone has spent time in the Peace Corps, the unpaid work done in a spirit of service for others is highly valued; why should a caregiver’s work be viewed differently?
She suggested that treating care work with respect might look like managers, executives, hiring committees, etc. welcoming caregivers' experiences on resumes, and asking well-informed, follow-up questions about the skills honed in that space.
I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has had a manager or interviewer react this way, or who has been on the other side of the table and taken this into account while hiring. The closest I’ve gotten in my professional life is when a start-up I worked for realized that a lot of our best employees in operations all had experience as stage managers, and we might want to proactively look for more people from that background.
Aria and Erin had an interesting exchange in this thread about how badly wages miss the mark as a measure of value. Aria pointed out that the “Wages for Housework” movement was intended as much as a critique of wages as a plea for subsidies.
Erin agreed that a lot of people make the mistake of thinking of wages as a measure of worth and not as “effectively arbitrary and based on the intersection of ‘what the company thinks you're worth’ and ‘what they think they can afford to pay you.’”
She brought up honoraria as an alternate model, where (at least theoretically) the payment is acknowledged to be incommensurate with the weight of the work, but is offered in appreciation.
And for my own part, the work experience that most brought home to me that my work wasn’t about my value was at my best paying job: HR manager for a different start-up than the one above. They could pay me much more because the business was more profitable. If I streamlined something in a way that saved the engineers an hour a week, there was a lot more value to capture (and partially return to me) than when I worked at a non-profit, even if I was equally good at both jobs. You could conclude from this that the highest value jobs are saving very rich people from small inconveniences, but I did not.
On the practical, policy side, Elizabeth brought up the idea of “people being given Social Security benefits for time they were not employed in order to do care work.” She talks about her mother’s experience, where staying home to care for her children (one of whom has special needs) means she’s not eligible for retirement benefits, while if she did the work as waged work for someone else’s family, it would “count.”
Lorrie points out that there is a sort-of precedent:
Social Security allowed members of religious orders who take a vow of poverty to opt in, even though they don't receive wages and don't have an employer-employee relationship with their order. So, it could be possible to cover people who are caring for their family even though that work is not done for wages.
Finally, Anna Louie Sussman floated a different idea in a New York Times op-ed.
Instead of “equal pay for equal work,” supporters of pay equity call for “equal pay for work of equal value,” or “comparable worth.” They ask us to consider whether a female-dominated occupation such as nursing home aide, for instance, is really so different from a male-dominated one, such as corrections officer, when both are physically exhausting, emotionally demanding, and stressful — and if not, why is the nursing home aide paid so much less? In the words of New Zealand’s law, the pay scale for women should be “determined by reference to what men would be paid to do the same work abstracting from skills, responsibility, conditions and degrees of effort.”
The op-ed compliments Katie’s call at the top of this email, for bosses to pay more attention to the skills necessary for care work. (Sussman’s op-ed mentions a conflict where a boss reluctantly admits that “listening” can be a skill, not just a basic capacity).
I’d be pretty uncomfortable trying to make these rulings on equivalency though.
I’ll leave you with this excellent performance by Shades of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “More than a Paycheck.” (There’s a thoughtful note on Shades’ website about the song’s place in their canon and the original choreography).