by Danielle Atkinson, Founding Director of Mothering Justice
For Juneteenth 2021, we reached a small step toward
s justice, as the United States officially recognized Juneteenth as a holiday. However, we still have a long ways to go as a country when it comes to liberating mamas and caregivers.
Juneteenth, also known as Liberation Day, is observed each year on June 19th as the nation’s oldest holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It is a day of celebration, but also one of reflection on both the progress that has been made and the fight that still remains in our collective struggle for freedom.
Just as our nation and economy as a whole were built on the forced labor of enslaved African Americans, the care economy in this country was built on the backs of enslaved Black women and this racist legacy casts a long shadow over caregivers and care workers to this day.
For this reason, our nation’s caregivers — a workforce (both formal and informal) disproportionately made up of women and women of color in particular — continue to be overworked, undervalued, underpaid or uncompensated entirely. Domestic workers and women of color have historically been excluded from many key labor protections, including those created by the New Deal in the 1930s.
This racist legacy continues unabated in an economy set up primarily to cater to the needs and concerns of white men — in caregivers’ low wages and the little-to-no consideration for their child care needs. This broken system and its current-day casualties are a powerful reminder — in the spirit of Juneteenth — that we can never be free until all of us are free.
ight now, Congress is debating the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan proposed by President Biden — a historic spending plan to rebuild the U.S. post-COVID. It’s long past time for the nation to recognize the care economy as vital infrastructure and invest in meaningful, sustainable solutions. We call on Congress to invest $700 billion over 10 years to build a system of child care that meets the real-life needs of workers and families.
To solve the child care crisis, we need a blueprint that encompasses the big-picture and extends beyond workforce support and early childhood education. This includes prioritizing parent choice, universal access and the stability and flexibility of being able to subsidize additional support from friends and family. This requires investment in a public system — one without forced labor or poverty tax — that provides universal coverage for children ages 0 to 13. Any package passed by Congress must also guarantee a living wage for child care workers and provide wellbeing-sustaining benefits such as a retirement plan.
To support working families and professional caregivers alike, we also need a paid leave system that enables workers to take needed time off to care for themselves, a sick family member or a new child, without being forced to choose between their and their families’ health and safety and a paycheck. We also need an inclusive paid leave policy that recognizes all definitions of families, replaces wages up to 85% and includes all workers.
An American Families Act that fails to invest in every family and their care needs is a proclamation without liberation and flies in the face of the meaning of Juneteenth. To provide for our lived realities and successfully emancipate women, people of color and our society and step outside the long, dark shadow of our nation’s racist history and chronic systemic injustices, we owe it to caregivers to invest in an equitable care economy.
Danielle Atkinson is founder and executive director of Mothering Justice.