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Still No Care for Care Workers

Decades of public neglect and underspending have brought us to the point that even an unprecedented global health emergency and economic collapse are not enough to make mistreatment of low-paid essential workers socially and politically unacceptable. Our applause is no longer enough to keep them keeping us safe.

NEW DELHI – Those who thought that a pandemic would make everyone realize the crucial role of care workers should think again. With the coronavirus still spreading rapidly, frontline workers are more essential – and at greater risk – than ever, yet public attention has shifted elsewhere.

Worse, as economies collapse and labor-market conditions deteriorate, employers in the private and public sector alike have grown more cynical in their treatment of essential workers. Far from instilling a deeper appreciation for their employees, the pandemic-induced surge in unemployment has enabled employers to exploit workers even more.

Capitalism has always had an uneasy relationship with care work. Although capitalist production relies heavily on unpaid and underpaid labor performed by women, migrants, and other disadvantaged social groups, it has historically pushed that work off the books and underground, into informality. As a result, all the varied tasks associated with social reproduction are barely recognized, much less rewarded or remunerated. Because so much care work is performed for free by women and girls within families and communities, it is simply taken for granted and, because it is outside the market, not counted as economic activity.

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