Every Mother is a Working Mother
By Phoebe Jones and Margaret Prescod
The AARP recently released Home Alone Revisited, a report of the nation’s 40 million family caregivers, which said, “In the current health-care environment, it is presumed that every home is a potential hospital and every service that the person needs can be provided by an unpaid family member, with only occasional visits by a primary-care provider, nurse, or therapist.”
This is an acknowledgement of what any of us who have cared for loved ones know — that the home is the new hospital staffed by millions of unpaid family caregivers doing medical jobs.
It (almost) goes without saying that the vast majority of those caregivers are women. (We say “almost” because in the attempt by researchers and others to be inclusive, the sex of the majority of people actually doing the work is hidden. We say “women and others” or “mothers and other caregivers” to be both accurate and inclusive.)
As women’s rights campaigners, we have seen that many caregivers are mothers and others looking after both young children and elderly parents.
Many are grandmothers caring for disabled children (while they themselves may also be disabled), or caring for the children of their children who have to work or fulfill welfare work requirements and can’t afford childcare, or are caught up by the opioid epidemic or mass incarceration.
We know from Payday, a network of men who work with us, that caregivers are often partners of veterans who have been disabled, injured, or traumatized by war.
And we know that most of us are, in one way or another, caring for people with diseases caused by pollution, environmental degradation, contamination, workplace hazards, and a food system that is a far cry from being organic or natural. For example, glyphosate (the chemical in Roundup) was found in the urine samples of 70-93% of the US population, raising the risk of neurological disorders, leukemia, and other diseases to which the chemicals have been linked.
Yet in the way the US calculates work and the GDP, none of those millions of caregivers are actually working. If one does not get a paycheck, then one is not working.
This hides one of the greatest truths — that women do 2/3 of the worlds work; and perpetuates one of the greatest injustices — that women get only 5% of the income (UN figures).
It hides the double and triple day most women are doing of low-waged work on top of unwaged caregiving work.
It hides how the poorer we are the harder our working conditions when we are caring for our families, with women of color and others the least disproportionately impacted.
It also hides the work that gets dumped on us when social services close, benefits get cut, or when hospitals seek to save money.
“The whole of society depends on caregiving work…”
The whole of society depends on caregiving work: raising children, breastfeeding, cooking, cleaning, elder care, caring for those with disabilities (even when we too have disabilities); bringing dignity to or fighting for justice for loved ones incarcerated, or discriminated against in education, healthcare, housing, employment… President Obama acknowledged that being a single mother is the hardest job there is.
That the work of mothers is hidden paved the way for Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform, which resulted in soaring poverty and the inability of women in particular to refuse the lowest wages. Women and children are now 73% of the poor, with Indigenous, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ communities disproportionately impacted.
For decades women have challenged who is defined as a worker because it leaves out millions of us who are unwaged, and hides that those of us in waged jobs come home to a second job of caregiving. The late Johnnie Tillmon, a leader in the movement of impoverished mothers, the Welfare Rights movement, said in 1965, “If I were President…I’d start paying women a living wage for doing the work we are already doing — child-raising and housekeeping. And the welfare crisis would be over… Housewives would be getting wages…”
We’ve won some gains and must build on them.
Thanks to the broad international grassroots effort led by the Women Count Network which was coordinated by the Wages for Housework Campaign, the United Nations at the 1995 World Conference on Women resolved that women’s unwaged work in the home, on the land, and in the community should be counted, and its value included in national statistics.
Full-time homemakers, once age 62, can collect half the amount of their husbands’ social security if they were married for 10 years.
There are programs in some states supporting with services such as respite care or paychecks some of those 40 million family caregivers through the Veterans Administration, Medicaid, workplace leave programs, and just recently Medicare Advantage. These gains need to be protected, extended and fully funded.
It is vital to implement Pay Equity, Paid Family Leave, Social Security credits for household work; the American Family Act which would guarantee a basic payment for the care of children, and the UN resolution to value and thus validate unwaged work.
Also vital to implement is the decision of the only Congressionally-mandated National Women’s Conference (1977): “…just as with other workers, homemakers receiving income transfer payments should be afforded the dignity of having that payment called a wage, not welfare.”
Our organizations are campaigning against unjust removals of children by the child welfare system from mothers and other caregivers whose only crime is that they are poor; we are supporting the Rise Out of Poverty Act in Congress which aims to get rid of the worst aspects of welfare reform; we are fighting the threat to General Assistance in the PA legislature which is a lifeline for women fleeing domestic violence, among many others; we are active in the Poor People’s Campaign — A National Call for Moral Revival to get poverty front and center on the agenda; and we are exploring and publicizing all the ways that family caregivers can and should get paid for caregiving. More info at: www.everymothernetwork.net
Mothers like Berta Caceres and many others around the world are central to the movement to save the planet and all life from climate change. Our caregiving and protection must be supported and rewarded. Join us on Mother’s Day and every day.
Philadelphia Crossroads Women’s Center
Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike