The epidemic will likely not stop very soon, but there are important fractures in our society that have been revealed. These fractures indicate that we entered the pandemic with pre-existing problems. Of these many pressing issues, one of the most serious is our caring problem.
There is a common bond that connects everyone in our society: caring for other people, especially children, the elderly, parents, and grandparents. Our families, communities, and economy all function because of it. The caring economy is currently in ruins, and to create a healthy, fair, and sustainable economy in the future, caregiving must be the foundation.
In order for transformative change to occur, there must be a catalyst or crucible. That moment in which everything is completely turned upside down requires the development of something new and better. This is why we cannot just have the economy that was already not functioning for millions of people start all over again.
Caring for the family was already a problem, even before the word COVID-19 was coined. Home health aides and personal care aides are expected to rise 36% by the year 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite the relatively low pay, the median salary is above $24,000 per year.
That 42% of pandemic fatalities have been due to nursing homes in states of crisis is also notable. Long-term care in the United States has been neglected for decades, and a moment of reckoning is required. Approximately 1.5 million people aged 65 and above reside in nursing facilities, whereas 2.6 million families composed of grandparents are called “grandfamilies” in the United States. One fifth of them lived in poverty, with about one-quarter of them living at or below the poverty line.
How can we assist families in this type of decentralised, organic caregiving? For the rest of my life, I will think about my mother and her commitment to my family when she lived with us and helped us raise our children. Social norms have a part to play in solving the multigenerational family problem, since they are found in many nations.
It should be noted that child care has been in crisis for quite some time before the implementation of the catastrophic “remote learning” and “working from home” experiment. Statistics show that the ongoing problem is driven by the fact that many schools will not start in the autumn. In two-thirds of cases, single mothers work, whereas married parents with children are involved in the labour force. The University of Oregon found that 47% of respondents reported having lost their pre-pandemic child care arrangements.
“It is not that we are burnt out; life is just challenging this year,” Deb Perelman writes in The New York Times. We are exhausted because our careers are constantly being bulldozed by an economy that is baffled by the fact that working parents are dispensable.
Also, we know that childcare is not spread evenly among men and women. And, as if this had not been difficult enough, it has now become much more difficult for millions of working moms during the epidemic.
It is already affecting women’s jobs, but as labour economist Betsey Stevenson of the University of Michigan said, “The consequences of the child care problem will have a noticeable effect over the next decade. A research was published in the journal Gender, Work & Organization in July which showed that women cut their work hours by as much as four to five times as much as dads while raising small children.
Earlier last month, Vice President Joe Biden unveiled his caregiver economy proposal. A $775 billion plan includes additional long-term care options for the elderly and handicapped, increased child care services, universal pre-K, and more. Biden states that caretakers are “too frequently underpaid, unnoticed, and undervalued.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, a $60 billion plan for child care was approved within a week. Two bills are proposed to boost the child care workforce, boost training, offer safer facilities, make upgrades, and start new development for child care institutions. “We are not going to re-open the economy if there isn’t a significant child care investment.” —Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), one of the bill’s sponsors
However important and vital new building and tax credits may be, this is not something that can be addressed by new construction and tax credits alone. It is a crisis of values. It’s imperative that we reassess our economic model on a deeper level. In order to rebuild the new world, we need to ask ourselves, what is important to us in the future? Additionally, how can we build an economy that reflects and appreciates things that we know ought to be valued?
Even before the epidemic struck, another catastrophe was coming down on us. Kai-Fu Lee, a venture capitalist and former President of Google China, argues in his brilliant book, A.I. Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, that, since A.I. and automation will soon replace half of all jobs, we should shift our economy so that “humanistic labours of love” are not replaceable by A.I. To put it another way, being a caregiver. “When we do this,” he explains, “we shall have to renegotiate the fundamental social contracts we have, rewrite our economic systems to encourage socially productive activities, and restructure economic incentives to reward socially beneficial activities in the same way as the industrial economy favoured economically productive activities.”
To get there, Lee suggests paying people who spend their time providing care to the elderly, assisting those with disabilities, and volunteering in the community with a “social investment stipend” (like after-school programs). In order to effectuate a real cultural change, as he suggests, organisations will have to not just create new positions, but ensure that they’re actual professions with more money and respect.
There is no economic or social strategy that can compel our emotions to change. To push our society in various ways, we may reward alternative behaviors, but this takes time. And, in my opinion, nothing has shown the urgent need for a new strategy like the recent global epidemic. During these trying times, we have the chance to push through pain and tears and make positive changes in our lives. It’s time to break the glass ceiling so that every woman has an equal opportunity to pursue both work and family. We know the long-term benefits of early childhood education, so we should make significant investments in it. We don’t place nearly as much importance on keeping schools open as we do on keeping airlines in the air. This policy puts the financial burden on families instead of providing support that would help families to keep their parents at home.
The pandemic has changed everything about our lives and exposed both what was overvalued and what was undervalued. As we rebuild, we need to create a caregiving economy that strengthens and rewards the ties that bind us.
We have recognised the work of caregivers by implementing the 7 p.m. nightly clap, which residents of numerous cities have traditionally used to express gratitude to the men and women who work 24/7 to serve and protect the community. That mindset needs to be prolonged. Everyone has the ability to become a caregiver in one way or another. The connective tissue that allows us to flourish is in fact the source of our collective and individual success.