Care is the core of strong families, an educated and active citizenry and a vibrant economy. The ability of Americans to care for each other is at the heart of middle-class economics, even though its role is rarely recognized. Many still view the economy as driven by individual men who support their families with paid work, who are in turn supported by their wives in the home. This view — which was never accurate for large swaths of America — is at least 50 years out of date and actively undermines today’s economy.
We must begin by understanding what care actually is. It is traditionally thought of as a set of physical tasks — bathing, dressing, feeding, physical and mental exercise — for the very young, the very old, the ill and the disabled. Yet those physical tasks are actually just a platform for a much more complex set of intellectual and emotional interactions that develop human potential or slow its decline. Care is best understood as any activity that involves investment in others rather than ourselves: investment of the time, energy, knowledge, motivation, discipline and support necessary to enable others to grow, succeed and maintain their capacities.
Americans in particular see our society as the sum of individuals striving for themselves. That striving creates dynamism, innovation and fulfillment. But it depends on an often invisible infrastructure of care. Invisible because for centuries care has been women’s work: bringing babies into life and easing parents out of it, raising families and volunteering for communities.
‘We are rapidly losing valuable talent’