Date of Degree
Political Science | Public Policy | Women's Studies
domestic labor, labor history, race, immigration, eldercare, women
With a multidisciplinary approach, I analyze the socio-economic, political, and historical factors that led to the current state of home health care in the United States. The legacy of slavery and the devaluing of so-called “women’s work” explain how the field of domestic work has been historically excluded from protection and regulation in the United States. Caring for children and keeping house have been women’s work for centuries, regardless of whether women were paid to do it or it was outsourced to an employee. Domestic work is sometimes referred to as “the work that makes all other work possible,” but this phrase silences the fact that the home has historically been the main site of work for women, and reinforces the idea that the private sphere and its labors are apolitical and not “real” work. The gendering of the male public sphere and the female private home has hampered efforts at regulation, because the home is not seen as a site of productive labor.
The story of domestic work in the twentieth century is a crystal lens through which to view the creation of whiteness and reification of Other. The low status of domestic work as an occupation is rooted in who has traditionally done domestic work for others: women, often Black or otherwise considered non-white. I examine the mutability of whiteness throughout the late 19th and 20th century, and describe the demographics of the current workforce – mostly immigrant women of color – as well as the aging population served by eldercare workers.
As the population ages and more Americans find themselves in the Sandwich Generation – caring for parents and children simultaneously – society will face a care crisis. This crisis bridges multiple issues that affect every level of civil society and government: children, parents, the elderly; independent contractors, for- and non-profit agencies, trade schools; and state-run licensing, regulations, and enforcement. We must figure out how to help families afford quality care, empower workers, and close the wage gap for women who, in the prime of their careers, are caring for their parents and children.
New York State is a good case study for regulations of domestic work. We can compare it with a successful reorganization of domestic work in Belgium. Yet the United States government’s move towards austerity in the current moment does not bode well for regulations, protections, enforcements, and supports for workers and employers, all of which would require the state to step in as a key player.
I propose an idea for a public-private partnership to support the eldercare community. Such a partnership, between the city, the state, and home care agencies, would facilitate high quality care and care jobs. Domestic workers would form a cooperative agency, meaning workers would do different tasks to keep the organization running. Structured as a co-op, the workers can rotate between direct care and management, including website design and development, customer service, fundraising, accounting, and human resources. A liaison would work with the department for the aging, workforce development organizations, and advocacy groups to streamline the process of finding and hiring a qualified domestic worker – and for the workers to find safe and respectful employment. Such a program would provide some redress to the workers who are grappling with the racist and sexist legacies of the field, as well as current prejudices.
Gruberg, Julia R., "“Pay, Protection, and Professionalism”: The History of Domestic Worker Organizing and the Future of Home Health Care in the United States" (2017). CUNY Academic Works.