Nelson: care-givers do not earn adequate pay
By ANDREW THAGARD
Workers in the primary education, elderly and childcare and nursing industries are drastically underpaid, said Julie Nelson, a notable economist from Harvard Divinity School in a Monday night lecture titled "For Love or Money — Or both? Gender, Justice, and Caring Labor."
"Some people talk about crisis in the care-giving industry with good reason," Nelson said.
She said workers in these industries are generally underpaid and people with master degrees in teaching generally earn a median annual salary of $43,000 compared to $70,000 in other fields.
"Is … work [in these industries] being done for love or money?" Nelson asked. She said most care-giving industry workers are actually motivated by both factors .
"A higher wage may make it possible for a caring person to care," she said.
Nelson warned failure to address low wages in the caring-giving industry will further contribute to societal problems such as poverty and burned-out caregivers among employees. Low wages will also foster a poor environment for the care recipient.
She pointed to the 100 percent turnover rate among nursing care aids within the first three months of employment as proof and added that a quarter of nursing homes actually cause harm to their residents. Within the childcare industry, Nelson said inadequate care results in cognitive and brain development problems among young children.
Nelson explored and debunked some of the justifications that people generally hold for underpaying caring-industry workers.
Arguments justifying low pay included employees receive emotional satisfaction in lieu of higher pay, unskilled workers should receive lower salaries than those with more marketable skills and people must be satisfied with their salary if they continue to work in the same position.
Nelson emphasized "caring labor has been unjustly under valued." She stressed "we need to fully appreciate this kind of work."
Although the purpose of her presentation was to address why workers in these industries should receive higher salaries and not the dynamics behind how this should be accomplished, she said raising the fees for higher income families and possible government subsidy for middle and lower income families may be a solution.
Monday's lecture is the first in a week long series of presentations by Nelson that focus on feminist economic issues.
All News Stories for Tuesday, September 12, 2000