Improving Care Jobs is Key to Closing the Gender Wage Gap and Ensuring Equity in the Future of Work

Press Release


September 24, 2019

IWPR Contact: Jennifer Clark | 202-785-5100 |

Improving Care Jobs is Key to Closing the Gender Wage Gap and Ensuring Equity in the Future of Work

New report examines future of work for the paid adult care workforce, which is disproportionately women of color

Washington, DC—Low wages and limited access to benefits among the paid adult care workforce, the largest growing occupation in the U.S. economy, threaten the economic security of care workers, but also pose costs to employers and society as a whole, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

The report, The Future of Care Work: Improving the Quality of America’s Fastest-Growing Jobs, explores how the growing need for elder care is as strong a factor as the potential for automation in shaping the future of work. These trends will especially affect women, who are the majority of elder care recipients, the majority of unpaid family caregivers, and the large majority of the elder care workforce.

The report finds that, while technological innovation will likely increasingly complement care work, the potential for automation is much lower in care work than in many other jobs. Care jobs will continue to grow as other, and often better, paid jobs for women may disappear, potentially increasing inequality and the gender wage gap.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Persistent low pay and quality of care jobs could widen the gender wage gap. If the number of low-quality care jobs increases while other higher-paying, female-dominated jobs disappear—as current trends indicate—the gender wage gap will likely grow. This gap may especially affect Black, Hispanic, and immigrant women, who are disproportionately employed in the care workforce.
  • Undervaluing care jobs threatens the ability of care workers to cover the costs of their own care later in life. Despite increasing education among paid care workers, who are disproportionately women of color and immigrant women, more than half of women workers in this field are living in or near poverty. Adult care workers are nearly twice as likely as other women workers to earn less than $15 per hour, fewer than one in four has access to employer-provided health insurance, and fewer than one in eight (13 percent) has a pension plan.
  • The low quality of care jobs will likely perpetuate the care crisis. The low wages and poor quality of care jobs leads to lower retention rates among these workers, at a time when demand for workers to care for an aging population is increasing. Higher quality care jobs can both address labor market inequalities and help to ensure an adequate supply of workers to meet the increasing need for long-term care.
  • Improving wages and the quality of adult care jobs is critical to addressing gender and racial inequality in the U.S. labor market. The report outlines recommendations, including increasing public investment in adult care, raising federal and state minimum wage levels, improving access to training and education, addressing harassment on the job, supporting collective bargaining, and exploring the potential of new technologies to help tackle harassment, deliver training, and create portable benefits systems.

IWPR Acting Co-President Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., co-authored the report and commented on the findings:

“Improving the pay and quality of care jobs is one of the single most important priorities for addressing inequality in the U.S. economy as it shifts and evolves in a changing future of work.  We must value these jobs as we would any other in-demand job that requires specific skills and training and that means paying the workers adequately and providing benefits that bolster their economic security throughout their lives.”

Co-author and IWPR Program Director on Employment & Earnings Ariane Hegewisch also commented:

“Policymakers and business leaders are rightly and understandably concerned about the impact of automation on the future of work. In addition to jobs that will be automated, we must also pay attention to the jobs that are most likely to grow. Personal care work is the fastest growing occupation and has a low risk of automation, the proliferation of these low paying jobs with poor quality will exacerbate inequality in the future of work. Demand for care will not go away, so we must invest in improving these jobs—for everyone’s benefit.”

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 collaboration with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.