Child Care is Unskilled Labor?

Kelly Coyle DiNorcia is the author of this post.  Her bio is here with another piece she wrote several weeks ago.
In the car the other day, I was listening to NPR.  Brian Lehrer was interviewing Robert Guest, the global business editor of The Economist and author of the new book, Borderless Economics:  Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism.  Here is a quote from Mr. Guest that has been sticking in my mind, and I’m hoping that the smart and savvy readers of Your (Wo)Man in Washington can help me decipher it:
“When immigrants come in they create jobs.  You have all these women here who can go out to work because they have cheap child care from Mexico.  That makes a huge difference to America when you compare it to a place like Japan that doesn’t allow any unskilled immigration at all and women can’t go out to work.”
I guess on the surface, that is a perfectly true and perfectly innocuous statement.  The fact that American women frequently employ immigrant women who are willing to watch their children for a very low wage so that the American women can find paying work outside the home is fairly indisputable, at least in the northeast where I come from.  Yet I don’t think the characterization of these women as “unskilled labor” is entirely accurate. 
In Morristown, New Jersey, near where I live, you can go to the train station on any given day and find an immigrant man who is willing to do just about any unskilled work you are willing to pay him to do, like paining your house or moving furniture.  Yes, you don’t need an advanced degree or specialized training in order to diaper a baby’s bottom or bandage a skinned knee any more than you need one to slap on a coat of primer or carry a couch up two flights of stairs.  Even so, you aren’t going to find me at the train station picking up a woman to watch my young children anytime soon.  So maybe it isn’t quite as easy as Guest seems to think it is.
Finding the kind of childcare that we need – consistent, reliable, high-quality and affordable – is often simply a matter of luck and is by no means a given.  Luckily, it seems that someone is Washington is finally figuring out what we have known all along.  According to a recent Washington Post article, Nancy Pelosi recognizes that the child care issue is key to allowing women to fully assert their presence in the workforce, and has vowed to put quality affordable child care on the national agenda if she regains her position as the Speaker of the House.  Even if she isn’t successful in her bid, at least she is finally bringing the issue to the fore: for women to be able to work for pay while maintaining a good quality of life, not to mention their sanity, we need someone to take care of our children. 


About Valerie Young

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst who focuses on the economic status of mothers and other family caregivers. She promotes social justice by arming mothers with information and a healthy dose of outrage. She is the Advocacy Coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and is a reporter for The Shriver Report and contributor to Brain/Child Magazine. Follow her blog, Your (Wo)Man in Washington, on Twitter @WomanInDC and on Facebook as Valerie Young and Your (Wo)Man in Washington.
  • kkmeister

    If child care wasn’t considered “unskilled”, maybe high-skilled child care wouldn’t be so hard to find. There are plenty of studies to show that children do better when their daycare or preschool teachers are highly paid and/or qualified. ( In the U.S., just about anybody can take care of children. You don’t even need a license. That’s a scary thought when you consider that we’re talking about the future entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, writers, and voters of tomorrow. In some other countries, nannies are required to go through some pretty rigorous training. I think we could use a few more of those highly trained nanny types in this country, too. Maybe we need to start recognizing child care as the real work it is.

    • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

      Exactly! The care of children is devalued economically and in terms of prestige, and it is therefore not viewed as a desirable career path. I have a friend who is a kindergarten teacher, and when her daughter says she also wants to teach, my friend tells her to be a pediatrician instead! What could be more important (and, indeed, harder work) than raising our children well?

  • Gretchen

    If it was to become one of the the highest paid jobs (as tweeted that it should be/would be in a caring economy) maybe more women would opt to do it themselves, as I believe they should, instead of shunting this important work off to lower paid women. 0-3 age children belong with their moms during most of their waking hours. Caring for young children is priceless.

    • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

      Certainly, caring for children is the most valuable thing we do as mothers, and the work should be regarded as such – and women who wish to do this work themselves should be able to get the support they need to do so.

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