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Advancing Care Infrastructure and Supporting Workers to Promote Equitable Economic Opportunity for Women – United States Department of State

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On October 29, the United States commemorates the first International Day of Care and Support.  The UN General Assembly adopted this day to recognize the critical role of care work, both paid and unpaid, to global economic prosperity and thriving societies.  As former First Lady of the United States Rosalynn Carter once said: 

“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” 

Yet, globally, care work and care workers remain unrecognized and undervalued. 

To help address such gaps, Secretary Blinken launched the first-ever interagency U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security in January of this year, which identifies advancing care infrastructure and valuing domestic work as a key line of effort to support women’s full, meaningful, and equal economic participation and leadership.  This goal aligns with the United States’ first National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, launched in 2021, which outlines efforts to invest in care infrastructure and support the care giving workforce.  Together, these strategies underscore the urgent need to build a robust, equitable, and inclusive care economy. 

Why Care About Care? 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how care is fundamental to the healthy functioning of our economies.  It also revealed the inadequacy of existing care infrastructure—the policies, services, and resources to support care needs.  The global lack of recognition and undervaluing of care work disproportionately impacts women, who perform 76 percent of all unpaid care work—three times the amount as men.  In the United States, 2.5 million women dropped out of the labor force during the height of the pandemic due to extra caregiving responsibilities, and the ILO estimates 54 million women globally lost their jobs in 2020—and new care responsibilities constrained women’s labor force participation.  Many care services, in which workers are disproportionately women, were forced to close during the pandemic.  According to the International Federation of Domestic Workers, many of these women work in the informal sector, where they face low wages, poor working environments, and lack of social protections. 

“Carers and care workers form the bedrock of our families, communities, societies, and economies.”

Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues

Given current deficits in care infrastructure and support, potential gains from investing in care are clear and profound.  According to the ILO, the current global (paid) care workforce is about 400 million people, with estimates valuing the paid care sector at $648 billion.  However, these numbers barely begin to capture total current and future care needs, as they do not include the contributions of unpaid care work or informal care workers.  Moreover, by 2030, the ILO estimates that 2.3 billion individuals worldwide will be care recipients.  By closing unpaid gender care gaps to support women’s equitable economic participation and investing in quality care resources and services to fill existing care service gaps, the global economy would expand by up to $28 trillion and add 300 million new care jobs 

In addition to these economic benefits, increasing investment in care services and care workers is essential to address future global challenges, including population growth and aging societies.  Countries must also consider care needs for people living with disabilities, which the WHO estimates at 1.3 billion people worldwide, or 16 percent of the global population.  Care needs for this population are often overlooked, as the fact that people with disabilities are often both recipients and providers of care does not receive ample attention in data collection and policy making. 

The effects of climate change will only exacerbate the demands for care across various sectors of society.  As mentioned in the first United States Strategy to Respond to the Effects of Climate Change on Women, for many women and girls, their care work responsibilities depend on accessing climate-impacted resources (e.g., land, food, water, fuel). The time burden to complete unpaid care duties, such as collecting water and fuel sources like wood, will increase as climate change contributes to the scarcity of such resources.  Tackling the climate crisis and providing adequate care infrastructure, including time-saving technologies, to address these impacts is also necessary to build a sustainable, resilient care economy. 

U.S. Government Actions on Care 

The United States is taking bold action, both at home and abroad, to increase investments in care infrastructure and support care workers through our policy, programming, and public diplomacy. We are investing $50 million (subject to the availability of funds) in the World Bank’s Invest in Childcare Initiative to support care infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries, which will better women’s employment, increase family welfare, improve childhood development outcomes, and increase economic productivity and growth. 

To make the case for further investments in care infrastructure, the United States is investing in more and better care data, especially sex and gender disaggregated data, to fully capture the diverse experiences of care givers.  For example, in 2021 the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues supported the OECD gender data expansion project to better understand the impact of policies such as parental leave, telework, taxation, and digitalization on gendered care gaps.   

The United States supports greater international collaboration and advocacy through our associate membership in the Global Alliance for Care, where we aim to strengthen women’s voices; increase support and social protections for care workers; and elevate the care economy through education, advocacy, and collective action. 

Through our programmatic efforts, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor is working to advance the labor rights of domestic workers in Mexico and Guatemala, and to support their transition to formal participation in the workforce.   

The State Department amplifies care issues through our multilateral diplomatic engagements.  As hosts of the 2023 APEC Women and the Economy Forum (WEF), the United States designated the care economy as a key pillar of this forum.  At the WEF, the United States hosted several policy discussions focusing on care with members of the private sector, civil society, and international partners to discuss strategies toward building a robust, equitable care economy.   

Ambassador-at-Large Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta delivers opening remarks for a panel discussion on innovations in care at the 2023 APEC Women and the Economy Forum. [APEC photo]

On this first-ever International Day of Care and Support, it is important to uplift how everyone has a role to play and work to do to develop equitable, resilient ecosystems that support women, care givers, and care receivers. 

Through implementation of the U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security, the Department of State looks forward to continued engagement with civil society, academic, and private sector partners to advance our efforts and provide solutions that address these urgent care needs.  We aim to advance care infrastructure and support care workers for the benefit of women and for all.  

About the Author: Kristin Wilson is an Economic Policy Advisor on the Women’s Economic Security team in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI). 

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