Burgeoning Demand for Care Workers Has Not Resulted in Improved Job Quality or Availability of Care

Press Release

June 28, 2018
Contact: Jennifer Clark | 202-785-5100 | clark@iwpr.org

Burgeoning Demand for Care Workers Has Not Resulted in Improved Job Quality or Availability of Care

New report analyzes changing demographics and stagnant earnings in child and elder care occupations

Washington, DC—The U.S. market for care workers is adapting slowly to both the increasing need for elder care and the constant and unmet need for child care, according to a new report published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The number of care workers grew 19 percent from 2005 to 2015, but low wages and poor working conditions in the care workforce threaten the quality and availability of care.

As the Baby Boom generation matures, the number of Americans aged 60 and above has increased by 40 percent over the last decade, when nearly 22 million older Americans required some assistance with daily life. At the same time, the number of children in the United States plateaued, but the lack of affordable, quality child care left high demand unmet. With these increases in demand for care, paid care work represents a growing share of the labor force.

“As economists, we most easily identify demand when more people are buying a good or service. The inability of families to pay for care gives us an underestimate of how much care we need right now. In other words, the looming care crisis is already here,” said economist and IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.

Care workers are predominantly female, White, and U.S.-born, but the industry has become more diverse over the past decade, with especially large increases in the share of male workers, Hispanic and multiracial workers, and naturalized citizens and foreign-born non-citizens joining the field. Care workers are increasingly educated, with care workers now most likely to have an associate degree or some college education, up from the previous decade when they were most likely to have a high school diploma or GED.

Despite gains in education and increased demand, the share of care workers who were poor or near poor remained relatively unchanged between 2005 and 2015, especially for women. Women in the care industry tend to have higher educational attainment than men, but have lower wages and higher poverty rates. Nearly half of women working in child or elder care live in or near poverty (defined as having family income less than twice the poverty line).

Overall, care workers experienced stagnant, or in many cases declining, wages over the past decade, particularly among men. Yet, men maintained universally higher wages than women: in 2015, for full-time, year-round work, women care workers earned 92 percent of what men in the same occupations earned.

“The evolving care workforce is doing their part in improving quality of care by increasing their education and credentials. Unfortunately, they have not been rewarded with improved wages. If we are to meet the growing need for care in the coming decades, policymakers must look for ways to improve the quality of these jobs, which are held primarily by women,” said sociologist and IWPR Program Director for Job Quality & Income Security Jeffrey Hayes, Ph.D.

Read the full report, The Shifting Supply and Demand of Care Work: The Growing Role of People of Color and Immigrants.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR also works in affiliation with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.