An Immodest Proposal


In 2002 the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) will expire, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the policy it authorizes, will come up for abolition, renewal, or replacement.

In anticipation of the debate that will ensue, the Women's Committee of 100/Project 2002 calls for a broadened perspective on women's poverty, including attention to the special economic vulnerability arising from the caregiving responsibilities that women often assume.

General Principles

Women perform the bulk of caring work for children, elders, and dependent persons, both within their own homes and as paid employees. Our economic system undervalues caregiving work when it is performed in the labor market and penalizes caregivers when they work outside the labor market caring for dependents. Although caregiving in families is indispensable to the welfare of families, communities, and the economy, research clearly shows that this work exposes women to poverty and other forms of economic inequality. Caregivers' poverty deepens as they encounter additional hardships and disadvantages. These include:

W hen poor caregivers meet these hardships, they face destitution; when middle-class caregivers encounter them, they become vulnerable to poverty for the first time. This is why today poverty in this nation Ð and globally Ñassumes the face of a woman with children or other dependents.

If caregivers' poverty has a woman's face, that face also often belongs to a woman of color. Poverty in the United States is not color-blind. The debate preceding the 1996 welfare law made the color of poverty the fault of the poor. We insist that the color of poverty is the consequence of racism and related forms of discrimination. Accordingly, our proposal proceeds from the recognition that race affects the material basis for caregiving, privileging some women at the expense of others. We call for policies that address the shared vulnerabilities of women of all races, beginning with the particular vulnerabilities of the poorest caregivers, especially poor women of color.

Ending Poverty, Not Ending Welfare

As a crucial first step toward ending poverty as we know it, we call for social policies that recognize and reward the work of caring for dependents.

TANF, like its predecessor, AFDC, provides minimal assistance to those who are impoverished and have dependents in their care, but the arbitrary and punitive aspects of such policies prevent them from granting the type of recognition we have in mind.

We call for an end to:

To replace TANF, we propose a set of policies that will allow women to choose between performing caregiving themselves or purchasing high-quality services for those who depend upon them for care. Such policies should ensure that caregivers -- whether they are caring for family members or non-family members -- receive just compensation and provisions for respite, old-age, health insurance and other basic needs.

AFDC and TANF have given special, but inadequate, attention to poor families, especially those with a single adult responsible for dependent children. We, too, are especially concerned with this group of highly vulnerable caregivers, but propose that support should be extended more broadly for all caregiving work.

A Caregiver's Allowance

We call for the replacement of TANF with a guaranteed income for caregivers of minor children and other dependent family members requiring sustained care.

This program would work like survivor's insurance (OASI), in that it would provide cash payments for family caregiving that would be administered according to national standards and would be disbursed at the national level on a regular, automatic and guaranteed basis. As with survivors' insurance (and social security) the caregivers' allowance would not authorize or condone government intrusion into the personal or family lives of recipients, including often racist intrusion into women's reproductive decisions. Those not now eligible for TANF would also receive a cash payment in recognition of their caregiving work, but the amount of compensation would be adjusted based on the total household income.

To enable individuals to make meaningful decisions about care, we further advocate the creation of high-quality, universally available, caregiving services, including child care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children and elder care and non-custodial care for incapacitated dependents. All such programs should be federally funded and meet federally defined minimum standards that include adequate training, compensation and benefits for workers as well as mechanisms for input from parents, guardians, and those responsible for the individuals under care.

Transforming Wage-Work

Ending women's poverty also requires transforming the labor marketÑby valuing the work that women currently perform for wages, enforcing anti-discrimination law, and offering the opportunities and training for better-paying jobs.

Crucial for this transformation are an overall improvement in labor standards, including:

Related programs

We envision additional social programs to enhance the quality of life of women and their families and to ensure that caregiving takes place in safety and with dignity.

W e will not count it as a victory if the status of American women is improved at the expense of women from abroad, whose economic and social disadvantages are even greater, compelling them to relinquish their own caregiving responsibilities in order to find work-often in low-paying service occupations-here in the U.S. We therefore call for the recognition and promotion of policies that justly compensate the work of caregiving and improved labor standards for women across the globe.
Name Affiliation
Mimi Abramovitz Hunter College School of Social Work, CUNY
Randy Albelda University of Massachusetts-Boston
Eileen Boris University of Virginia
Ruth Brandwein SUNY at Stony Brook
Nancy Fraser New School University
Cynthia Harrison George Washington University
Eva Feder Kittay SUNY at Stony Brook
Sonya Michel University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign
Gwendolyn Mink University of California-Santa Cruz
Frances Fox Piven Graduate Center, CUNY
Dorothy Roberts Northwestern University School of Law
Rickie Solinger historian, Boulder, Colorado
Jean Verber welfare advocate/activist, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Guida West activist and author, Montclair, New Jersey
Ann Withorn University of Massachusetts-Boston

Who We Are

The Women's Committee of 100 is a group of feminist academics, professionals, and activists who are concerned with the relationship between women, economic survival, and the work of caregiving. We have developed this statement in light of our research and our continuing commitment to ending women's poverty.