The future of work already is here, and it’s right in our homes. Domestic work is projected to have the most anticipated growth in the job market in the next 10 years, not jobs in the technology sector. Thanks to an aging population that’s living longer, Virginia has an opportunity to boost its economy and provide quality jobs through care work if we give domestic workers labor rights.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy is expected to add nearly 1.2 million care jobs by 2028 — a 36% increase from the 3.25 million personal care and home health aides in 2018. Personal care is the top-ranking occupation to produce the most new jobs in the country.
The Virginia Employment Commission ranks personal care aides and home health aides as the top two fastest-growing occupations by demand, with an annual average growth rate of 5.13% and 4.24%, respectively. There is a real opportunity to shift workers to the care industry as jobs in the service, production and transportation industries will be lost due to automation.
The Brookings Institution found that 25% of all jobs in the U.S. are at a high risk of automation, since more than 70% of their tasks can be done by machines or software robots. This poses a significant threat in the coming years and a need to create quality jobs that will be here in the future.
Nationwide, there are more than 2 million domestic workers, mostly women of color and immigrants, who provide care for our homes and loved ones. They are nannies, house cleaners and care workers who make it possible for other work to happen. Many work long hours and nights — often seven days a week — cooking, cleaning and caring for the well-being of their clients. They have one of the hardest and least secure jobs in America and are paid low wages for their work.
The national median pay for domestic work is $24,060, one of the lowest wages in the country. In Virginia, personal care aides on average make $19,050 annually. Home health aides in the commonwealth have a median salary of $21,770.
For generations, domestic work has been poverty wage work due to this nation’s history of slavery. Enslaved black women performed domestic labor without pay for centuries. When they transitioned to being “paid” domestic workers after emancipation, families continued to view these women as “part of the family” who worked out of love and not for a paycheck. Due to the legacy of slavery and the exploitation of women of color and immigrant women, care work still is not always valued as real work.
When Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 — a federal law that established a minimum wage and overtime pay — domestic workers were explicitly excluded as a concession to Southern lawmakers who wanted to continue paying low wages for personal servants. Domestic workers were intentionally denied the right to earn a minimum wage or overtime pay.
Although we’ve made progress since then, domestic workers still do not have basic rights and labor protections. Domestic workers are relatively invisible and are subject to exploitation and abuse such as wage theft, sexual harassment and human trafficking. The challenging work coupled with low pay and no benefits has led to a high turnover in this industry. Without effective policies that guarantee workers’ rights and protections, these jobs will remain unfilled.
We have the power to change that.
The new General Assembly can pass a suite of laws that provide comprehensive labor protections for domestic workers in Virginia. We can join other states that have passed legislation to provide a living wage, benefits and workplace protections for all workers. Virginia has the power to transform care work into quality jobs and create an economy that’s great for workers.
Now that Virginia has the largest representation of women in General Assembly history, we should look to these women, especially women of color, to lead the way in being champions of a care economy. We must prioritize policies that benefit and uplift women; especially since they are an integral part of our workforce. Our elected leaders should act now and stop kicking the can down the road.
For the future of our economy, it’s vital we invest in our domestic workforce and ensure that care work and care workers are valued.