It’s Time to Recognize the Value of Home Care Work
June 17, 2020
Racializing the Pandemic
August 14, 2020
By LaTonya Trotter

06/18/2020

According to the logic of the market, the work of caring for others—work predominately performed by women–is valued less than work that produces consumable goods. However, the 2020 pandemic has revealed the deficiencies of relying on the market to assess worth. When we were forced to define who was an essential worker, this New York Times article by Campbell Robertson and Robert Gebeloff reports that this category was overwhelmingly comprised of women in care work occupations. Nowhere is this trend more visible than in health care, where women make up a full 77% of the essential health care workforce.

While the pandemic has highlighted the essential nature of caring labor, it has also underlined the systematic ways in which the work remains devalued. This WBUR commentary by Nell Lake explores the contradiction of applauding nurses as front-line heroes while also failing to protect them through adequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE). With women making up 90% of the nursing workforce, gendered difference in risk may help to explain why women account for 73% of covid-19 infections among US health care workers.

And while health care professionals working with covid-19 patients are being asked to take on risks with inadequate protection from their employers, other health care workers are being treated as expendable. This New York Times piece by Ellen Gabler, Zach Montague, and Grace Ashford describes how physicians, nurses, and other health care workers are being furloughed or having their wages cut because nonemergency medical appointments have been cancelled or postponed as a consequence of the pandemic.

While the pandemic’s impact on health care may seem like a special case, feminist economist Nancy Folbre argues that the current crisis has only laid bare the underlying flaws of a market-driven health care system. “Our most important assets,” she writes, “do not have a market price.”

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