Report says low-paid care work relic of racism, sexism

Before the Industrial Revolution, the work of caregiving fell almost exclusively to women – wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters. White women were seen as nurturing and domestic, and acted as hostesses and supervisors. Enslaved Black women and poor and immigrant women worked in more physically demanding domestic work – nursing, washing floors, and doing laundry. After Emancipation, many of the jobs available to Black women remained in domestic labor.

The COVID-19 pandemic and a national reckoning on race have called renewed attention to the essential work done by caregivers – childcare workers, home care workers, and workers in long-term care facilities. A new report by Boston Indicators, the research center at the Boston Foundation, and SkillWorks, which does workforce development, looks at the chronic underpayment and undervaluing of caregivers. The report traces the root of the problem to systemic racism and sexism dating back hundreds of years. It makes the case that it will take conscious work to improve the system and, as a society, provide the care that children and increasingly seniors will need.

“It’s not easy to overcome 400 years of systemic oppression and, given the nature of the market for the care economy, it will require both private and public sector commitments,” wrote Andre Green, executive director of SkillWorks, in the report’s preface. “But if we’re serious about racial, gender, or economic justice it’s a task we must take up together.”

Luc Schuster, executive director of Boston Indicators, said the report, released before Labor Day, makes clear that those workers who provide critical support for people in infancy, illness, disability, or old age “are too often excluded from our image of high-value labor.”

The report says domestic labor has been excluded from labor protections through modern times. Laws in the 1930s granting a right to unionize and creating a federal minimum wage excluded domestic workers. Many labor rights were only extended to care workers under federal law in 2015. (Massachusetts passed a domestic workers bill of rights in 2014.)

Demographically, care workers tend to be female, non-white, and foreign born. While just under half of Massachusetts workers are female, women make up 85 percent of home care and long-term care facility workers, and 92 percent of childcare workers. While 7 percent of workers are Black, Blacks comprise 43 percent of workers in long-term care facilities. Latinos are 11 percent of the total workforce but 27 percent of home care workers.

The report says care work had a median wage between $13 and $16 an hour depending on the type of work between 2016 and 2020, though the pay increased as the state minimum wage increased and federal funding offered wage bumps during the pandemic. The report says the low pay is not reflective of skill or education level. It compares several jobs that do not require a high school degree and finds those that are predominantly female (like health care and childcare) have lower wages than those that are predominantly male (electricians, firefighters, and carpenters). 

Care workers are less likely than other workers to receive employer-provided health insurance and retirement benefits. As a result, many depend on public assistance. Almost one-third of Massachusetts home care workers receive food stamps.

The result is an industry plagued by high turnover and burnout, an increasing problem as Baby Boomers age. The Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development predicted that between 2018 and 2028, the need for home health aides and personal care aides will rise by about 20 percent in an industry that already has staffing shortages.

The report makes several policy suggestions, including continued minimum wage increases, increased Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates, a licensing process for home care agencies, and improved career training. Advocates have been pushing an expansion of the earned income tax credit to cover unpaid caregivers, so a stay-at-home parent of a young child or someone caring for a disabled family member could get the tax credit.

Schuster said there are models to look to, like a public home care authority in Washington state that lets home care workers at different agencies bargain collectively.




MBTA out of balance: The Federal Transit Administration released a report saying the MBTA’s focus on capital spending is often coming at the expense of spending on daily operations and maintenance, which is resulting in a rising level of derailments and safety incidents.

– The report includes five directives, in addition to the five that were issued on an emergency basis in mid-June. The new directives come with 24 findings, dealing with hiring, safety information prioritization, two-way communication between staff and management on safety issues, maintenance and workplace rules, and oversight from the Department of Public Utilities. In every category, severed deficiencies were reported.

– FTA and MBTA officials said they would work together over the coming years to build a safety culture at the T and address the issues raised in the report. MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said he is setting up a special office to oversee the effort, headed by the person in charge of capital planning, Katie Choe. Poftak said he will use $266 million appropriated by the Legislature and another $200 million in a bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday to begin addressing the safety issues. Read more.

Poftak’s fate uncertain: Despite a damaging FTA report, there were no calls for the dismissal of MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. Even Maura Healey, the frontrunner in the race for governor, is being coy about whether she would remove him if she is elected, despite a transportation plan that suggested otherwise. Read more.

Supercars coming: The MBTA board of directors approves an $811 million contract to purchase 102 new Green Line supercars. Read more.

Here’s what’s left: The Baker administration puts the tax cap excess at $2.9 billion. Even accounting for returning that amount to taxpayers, the Department of Revenue says $1.5 billion is left in the state’s coffers at the end of fiscal 2022. Read more.





On the site of the former Porthole restaurant in Lynn, developers are looking to build an 80-unit luxury condo complex with a total value of more than $100 million. (Daily Item)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial suggests the Stockbridge Select Board should reach out to the wider community to solicit feedback on a proposal to give a tax break to primary residents, which would force up the taxes of those who own second homes in the community. 


A federal watchdog agency says it is investigating US Attorney Rachael Rollins’s participation in a political fundraiser attended by Jill Biden, the wife of the president. (Associated Press)


Tensions over years-old sexual assault allegations against Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo erupted in the council chamber, which eventually was cleared of all spectators. (Boston Herald) Arroyo, who is in a heated race for Suffolk County district attorney, and current DA Kevin Hayden each questioned the other’s character at a candidate  forum in Mattapan. (Boston Herald) A Globe editorial calls on Arroyo to drop out of the race and, if he doesn’t, urges voters to support Hayden, while acknowledging they are both “deeply problematic candidates.”  

State Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem faces a challenge from first-time candidate Kyle Davis, a liberal activist and organizer. (Salem News)

Six Democrats are competing for an open House seat to represent Marblehead, Swampscott, and part of Lynn. (Salem News) Three Democrats, all with public service experience, want to replace Salem Rep. Paul Tucker, who is running for district attorney, in the House. (Salem News)

Incumbent state representatives Christopher Markey of Dartmouth and William Straus of Mattapoisett are both facing Democratic primary challengers, and Straus will also face a Republican in the general election. (Standard-Times)

Four Western Massachusetts Democrats and one Republican are vying to replace Mary Hurley, who is not running for reelection on the Governor’s Council. (MassLive)

A super PAC supporting Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll for lieutenant governor has spent $1.2 million on advertising. (MassLive)

Democrat Mary Peltola defeats Sarah Palin in an Alaska special election for a House seat. (New York Times)


Massachusetts borrowers will not have to pay taxes on student loan forgiveness. (MassLive)


Northampton High School will start the year without a principal as an investigation continues into the principal, who is now on leave, making disparaging comments about student government. (MassLive)

Fall River has reached an agreement to rent space in a former Montessori school as a temporary solution for its pre-K expansion this fall. (Herald News


More South Shore communities are tightening restrictions on outdoor water use as the drought continues. (Patriot Ledger)


The Worcester police say social media posts about missing children and teenagers are making a big difference in their ability to find those kids. (Telegram & Gazette)