Article by Anne-Marie Slaughter and Hilary Cottam: “Recognizing the true value and potential of care, socially as well as economically, depends on a different understanding of what care actually is: not a service but a relationship that depends on human connection. It is the essence of what Jamie Merisotis, the president of the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, calls “human work”: the “work only people can do.” This makes it all the more essential in an age when workers face the threat of being replaced by machines.
When we use the word in an economic sense, care is a bundle of services: feeding, dressing, bathing, toileting, and assisting. Robots could perform all of those functions; in countries such as Japan, sometimes they already do. But that work is best described as caretaking, comparable to what the caretaker of a property provides by watering a garden or fixing a gate.
What transforms those services into caregiving, the support we want for ourselves and for those we love, is the existence of a relationship between the person providing care and the person being cared for. Not just any relationship, but one that is affectionate, or at least considerate and respectful. Most human beings cannot thrive without connection to others, a point underlined by the depression and declining mental capacities of many seniors who have been isolated during the pandemic….
One of us, Hilary, has worked in Britain to expand caregiving networks. In 2007 she co-designed a program called Circle, which is part social club, part concierge service. Members pay a small monthly fee, and in return get access to fun activities and practical support from members and helpers in the community. More than 10,000 people have participated, and evaluations show that members feel less lonely and more capable. The program has also reduced the money spent on formal services; Circle members are less likely, for example, to be readmitted to the hospital.The mutual-aid societies that mushroomed into existence across the United States during the pandemic reflect the same philosophy. The core of a mutual-aid network is the principle of “solidarity not charity”: a group of community members coming together on an equal basis for the common good. These societies draw on a long tradition of “collective care” developed by African American, Indigenous, and immigrant groups as far back as the 18th century….Care jobs help humans flourish, and, properly understood and compensated, they can power a growing sector of the economy, strengthen our society, and increase our well-being. Goods are things that people buy and own; services are functions that people pay for. Relationships require two people and a connection between them. We don’t really have an economic category for that, but we should….(More)”.