Paid Caregiving in the 21st Century

The quality of availability and long term care services depend most fundamentally on paid caregivers who deserve far more recognition and support than they now receive.

Al-Jen Poo is a MacArthur Genesis award winner, which she received for work in organizing home health workers and related efforts to improve the lives of these and other low-wage workers in the massive health care industry. Health care is the largest sector in the U.S. economy at almost 18% of GDP and includes some of the wealthiest companies and executives in the world. However, the workers for whom Poo has spent the last several years representing and advocating are some of the lowest paid workers in the U.S. labor force, and most receive no health care insurance, paid vacation time, or paid sick leave. In many communities, fast food workers are better paid and receive better benefits even though home health care work, reflecting the huge increase projected for the older population over the next several decades, is one of the fastest growing job categories in the labor force.

As part of her long-standing campaign to acquaint the public with the great importance of what home health care and other low paid health care workers do day to day and to improve their working and private lives, Ms. Poo has written a fine, passionate book that should bring her message to a wider audience than she had before. This message is based on her well-defended conviction that the United States needs a fundamental change, or, if you will, a revolution in values. A revolution designed to put an ethic of care at the center of our moral culture, displacing the singular focus on material wealth that has dominated the American way of life for the last 30–35 years. She thinks that these workers, who provide such critical and indispensable caregiving work, are not likely to escape poverty and get what they deserve until an ethic of care becomes an organizing principle of our moral culture and elevates caregiving to the top of our values hierarchy. She argues in a very compelling fashion that this reevaluation of values would improve not only the lives of care workers but also the lives of us all as we move beyond the insatiable demands of the ceaseless pursuit of material gain.

– Larry Polivka

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