Emergency rooms, social security offices, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement outposts consigned into strip malls: places that manage to be dreary and fluorescent at the same time. A decade ago, on any given day of the week, I’d be bringing an abused domestic worker through some new round of administrative hoop-jumping in one of these places so she could be classified and serviced as a ‘victim of human trafficking’. But was any of this really making a difference? It took me a few years on the job to figure it out.
In the News
Last September, Dallas-area drivers for UberBlack, the company’s high-end car service, received an email informing them that they would be expected to start picking up passengers on UberX, its low-cost option.
The next day, when the policy was scheduled to go into effect, dozens of drivers caravaned to Uber’s office in downtown Dallas and planted themselves outside until company officials met with them. Many had taken out loans to buy luxury vehicles that cost upward of $35,000, and worried that the modest per-mile rate for UberX passengers would barely cover gas and wear and tear, to say nothing of their car payments.
The standoff stretched across nearly three more tense days until Uber allowed them to opt out of the policy. “They thought we were just going to give up, walk away,” said Kirubel Kebede, a leader of the group. “But we said, ‘No, this is our livelihood.’”
When Uber, Lyft, Handy, and a handful of other companies funded by venture capital began earning huge amounts of money after investing in the informal economy, it was because they understood a simple equation. In exchange for providing the name, job site, and payment for a given task—automated through a proprietary algorithm—an independent contractor would agree, in turn, to provide a service and hand over a sometimes-sizeable commission for the privilege of working. On quick inspection, the math works out: At-will workers earn extra money through a simple system that rewards flexibility, and the VC-funded concerns keep costs low by technically not employing laborers. Broadly speaking, then, the sharing economy is just a technologically sophisticated update of the barter economy.
Much has been written about how our economy is changing, particularly in light of the digital revolution. This economy is defined by entirely new ways of organizing and working together, by an energizing sense of possibility, and by a seemingly insatiable thirst for problem solving.
But a central question remains: problem-solving for and with whom? How will the new economy engage and support the least visible among us? Now that we're living in the era of tech-enabled scale and efficiency, it's time to elevate empathy and equity if we hope to shape a more caring economy that works for all of us.
These questions remind me of many of the people I meet in my work to bring recognition and basic labor protections to domestic workers around the United States. People like Erlinda, who cares for the elderly in Chicago. Erlinda became a caregiver when she arrived to this country, remembering the fulfillment of caring for the elders in her community in the Philippines. At our first meeting, she shared a story about a client she referred to as "my lady."
The president’s State of the Union address failed to address our issues
Tuesday night, I sat as the guest of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) at President Obama’s final State of the Union. I waited for him to discuss or even announce a plan to address the needs of black people in America—especially black cisgender and transgender women and black immigrant women, who continue to be overlooked, underpaid, undervalued and in the midst of continual attacks on our lives.
I was deeply disappointed, and, unfortunately, not surprised.
There was no tribute for India Clarke, a black trans woman, who was killed in Florida last year. There were no condolences to Samaria Rice, who is still fighting for justice for her 12-year-old son Tamir Rice. There was no mention of the fates of Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna, Samuel DuBose or Eric Garner.
The president is running out of time to meaningfully address the dire circumstances of black women and girls.
Tonight, President Obama will give his last State of the Union address. This is a historic moment: the last State of the Union by likely the last black president for a while, given the state of politics in this country. I’ll be there, as a guest of my congresswoman, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a consistent and courageous champion for reproductive freedom, economic justice and racial and gender justice. And I’ll be waiting for the president to announce that he’ll take substantive action to finally address the needs of black women, both cisgender and transgender. When black women — so frequently overlooked and denigrated — can succeed, that’s a signal everyone in our society has a better chance of success.
Across the world, 53 million people, over 80 per cent of them women, are employed as domestic workers. Their work helps economies grow, advances the participation of women in the workplace and provides crucial care for millions of dependents. Every day they cook, clean, look after the elderly, help children with homework, performing vital roles in keeping households and communities running.
“Domestic work makes all other work possible,” says Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a national membership body made up of domestic worker groups across the United States.
“Domestic workers have always been critical to the functioning of national economies, but they are now absolutely critical to the growth of our global economy.”
Yet as a workforce, these millions of women remain largely invisible. In many countries, domestic workers remain excluded from national labour laws. This leaves domestic workers open to abuse and exploitation and unable to demand safe and protected workplaces.
Every day, at least 10,000 Americans turn 65. When we imagine the future, most of us envision ourselves living life on our own terms, in our homes and communities, connected to the people we love, even as we become more frail. As Atul Gawande, Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencer of the Year, so eloquently put it, we want to continue to be “the authors of our own stories” as we age.
Yet, most of us don’t have a plan to make that happen, and we as a nation don’t have a plan, either. Our family caregivers are overstretched and our care workforce is underpaid; both are undervalued. Families are pushed into poverty to pay for care. What we have in place simply isn’t sufficient to meet the growing need for care and supportive services in our country.
A New System
Living well in the future will require a fundamental change in our nation’s approach to caregiving. We need a system that supports caregivers, incentivizes professional caregivers to join and stay in the care workforce and helps us all afford the quality care we deserve.
We don't live in a two-dimensional world, says Alicia Garza, the 34-year-old who cofounded Black Lives Matter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. As a black queer woman (whose partner is trans) and a longtime advocate for economic justice and fair working conditions, Garza understands these intersections better than most.
"Just like we don't live in a two-dimensional world, we don't live two-dimensional lives," Garza says. "Our lives are multidimensional, and because of the systems that we live under, there are particular punishments and sanctions for different aspects of who we are."
While those punishments and sanctions may look different for different people, they're meted out by the same system. In America, that so-called justice is often delivered by law enforcement and disproportionately impacts people of color and LGBT people and anyone else deemed to be "other."
To win in 2016, candidates in both parties must capture working class voters of all stripes.
Presidential candidates from both parties are tossing around ideas about how to help everyday working Americans.
But something’s missing. Strongmen on the right are speaking almost exclusively to white, working-class voters, stoking populist resentment toward people of color—both immigrants and African Americans. Progressives, for their part, are calling for better wages and quality of life across the board, including for those vilified on the right.
To win in 2016 and beyond, candidates must reach out to both groups; they must speak to all working people. Those who focus exclusively on one group or the other will undermine their chances of winning the White House.