This Sunday, American families will celebrate Mother's Day. For centuries, we have venerated mothers for the selflessness and the tender caregiving that allows us to feel safe and to thrive. Beyond the vases of roses, the boxes of chocolate, even the spa gift certificates, we can do more for the caregivers in our families.
There are many forms caregiving relationships that are full of tenderness and intimacy — not just between mother and child, but between a son and his and aging father, or between the home health aide and the Alzheimer’s patient, or between the working woman with a disability and the attendant who helps her get ready in the morning. Comedian Amy Poehler commented on the indispensable role of caregivers at the Time 100 event last week:
"I have thought very hard and long about what has influenced me over the past couple of years, and…it was the women who helped me take care of my children…who come to my house and help me raise my children. And for you working women who are out there tonight who get to do what you get to do because there are wonderful people who help you at home, I would like to take a moment to thank those people, some of whom are watching their children right now, while you’re at this event. Those are people who love your children as much as you do, and who inspire them and influence them and on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say thank you and I celebrate you tonight."
Care workers, those who provide the childcare, housekeeping, and direct care services that allow us to go to work and support our families, or who allow our loved ones to receive care at home with dignity instead of being institutionalized, need our attention as a nation. Those who aren’t lucky enough to work for the Amy Poehlers of the world are often working under strenuous conditions, vulnerable to abuse and burn out. Many workers lack pathways to career advancement and citizenship, compromising working conditions and jeopardizing the quality of care.
Meanwhile, the struggle to find quality, affordable caregiving services becomes more challenging by the year. Even as the economy "recovers" from the destruction caused by Wall Street speculators and tax-evading corporations, budget shortfalls are prompting cuts on the state and Federal level to many of the basic human services that we depend on in this country, including Medicaid and Medicare. Some lawmakers are pushing to repeal some of the most promising programs in the new healthcare law that will help our seniors and fellow citizens with disabilities access home care, such as the CLASS Act, which provides long-term care insurance, and have threatened to block grant Medicaid, which according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities would cause "serious hardship."
A burgeoning movement of domestic workers and direct-care workers, alongside advocates for the elderly and disabled came together this week in Washington, DC for the latest meeting of the Caring Across Generations campaign. This multi-organization campaign is led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (whose director Ai-jen Poo was recently featured in a New York Times article by IPS board member Barbara Ehrenreich), Jobs with Justice, and Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employer’s Association.
The meeting brought together dozens of organizations from the disability rights, senior rights, and worker rights worlds, and included a panel discussion with policy experts like Dean Baker and Van Jones. A broad coalition, including the Institute for Policy Studies, has come together to provide leadership to the campaign, which is based on the values of quality, affordable care, dignified and meaningful jobs, and the values of inclusiveness and interdependence. In addition to joining the fights to preserve the services and programs that families depend on today, the long-term vision of the Campaign includes:
- Creating jobs to meet the growing demand for caregivers
- Improving the quality of jobs so that these jobs respect the rights of workers who provide this valuable care
- Providing training and a meaningful career ladder
- Providing a path to citizenship
- Supporting individuals and families to access and afford quality care, and to address the needs of unpaid family caregivers.
The campaign will be fully launched in DC at the first "Care Congress" on July 12. I hope you will join us, and the more than 700 people from all around the country who want to be part of the movement to transform care in the United States.
What mom really needs this Mother’s Day isn’t a bouquet of flowers or greeting card. It’s a new respect for the value of care, in all its forms, and a new vision for what we deserve as Americans when it comes to giving and receiving care.