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A Brief But Spectacular take on the value of caregivers in America

One thing the pandemic has made clear is our need for essential workers. The NewsHour has heard many of their voices during this last year. On this "Equal Pay Day," Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance gives her Brief But Spectacular take on the importance of caregivers and how we can protect and value their work in America as we navigate the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    One thing the pandemic has made clear,our need for essential workers.

    We have heard many of their voices during this last year.

    Tonight, Ai-jen Poo, who is director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, gives her Brief But Spectacular take on the importance of caregivers, and the need to value work, on this Equal Pay Day.

  • Ai-Jen Poo:

    In the first month of the stay-at-home orders, about 90 percent of domestic workers lost all of their jobs and income.

    So, it has been a crisis of impossible choices, where you're either struggling to figure out how you're going to take care of yourself and your own family without an income, or you're going to work as an essential worker without protections. Your kids are home from school, trying to navigate online learning, and still earning poverty wages, without access to health care.

    My grandparents played a huge role in raising me, like many immigrant families. And my grandmother taught me a lot about caregiving. Being as close to my grandparents as I was, when they became older and needed care of themselves just made me want to ensure that every one of our loved ones, especially the people who raised us and cared for us, actually have the care and the dignity that they deserve. Everyone deserves that.

    The average income of a home care worker in America is about $16,000 per year, $16,000 per year. So, we end up losing some of our very best caregivers to other low-wage service jobs, like fast food or retail, because they cannot support themselves and their families doing this work.

    To me, we should be thinking about our caregiving systems as essential infrastructure, child care, elder care, support for our loved ones with disabilities. These are fundamental needs that every working family has across the lifespan. And we have nothing in place to really support families around those needs.

    And so I think, in the 21st century, when we think about infrastructure, it has to include good caregiving. I believe that we have an opportunity here to make these jobs good jobs that you can take pride in and support your family on. And one generation can do better than the next, just like we took manufacturing jobs in the 1930s from dangerous poverty-wage jobs into a real pathway to economic security and mobility for generations.

    As an organizer, I spend a lot of time listening. The only way to understand how to solve a problem is to really hear about how these policies and how these challenges live in the lives of people every single day.

    As the pandemic rages on, the burden of safety is falling disproportionately on the shoulders of the people who have the least amount of resources and power to navigate the situation. We have an opportunity, as we emerge from this pandemic, as the vaccine is more widely available, to really chart a new course for how we protect and value work in America.

    Let's put them at the center of how we think about the future of work in this country.

    My name is Ai-jen Poo, and this was my Brief But Spectacular take on caregiving.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So thankful for all of our caregivers.

    And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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