Genius organizer Ai-Jen Poo often talks about how home care workers and other domestic workers are the invisible workforce – performing life-sustaining work for low wages and no benefits day in and day out. But this week in St. Louis at the Home Care Workers Rising conference home care workers made their dreams and their struggles highly visible. They came together from across the country to hammer out plans for a better future for themselves, their children, and the consumers for whom they provide care.
Over delicious butter cake, a St. Louis special, home care workers shared with us the heartbreaking choices they are forced to make in jobs that often pay too little to make ends meet. They told us about choosing between spending time with their kids and working enough hours to pay the gas bill or buy enough food so their children won’t go hungry. We heard about the gnawing worry when their kids are in child care they don’t trust because they can’t afford anything better. We heard from single parents who had no other option but to take their children with them to work. Parents shared the frustration of being told they don’t qualify for help from the government to pay for child care because they make too much money, when it is absolutely clear they can’t afford it on their own.
The conference provided an opportunity for home care workers to discuss what would improve their lives and their children’s: livable wages, affordable child care, fair schedules, paid sick days and leave, health benefits, and a voice in the workplace are at the top of the list. And minimum wage and overtime protections, effective for home care workers in January of 2015 [PDF] are certainly a start.
This week’s conversation with home care workers is the first in a series of discussions we’ll be having with working parents in low-wage jobs about how they put the puzzle pieces of child care and work together and what needs to change to make it work better. Stay tuned for more!