LAWRENCE — People might not often think of work done in the home as part of the larger economy. But a University of Kansas professor is leading a new project to collect data on the care economy to quantify the often underrecognized work of providing care for others and make the information available in a central location to help policymakers, researchers, nonprofits and others access this vital economic data.
“The Care Board” will gather existing statistics on the care economy and provide a dashboard for access to the data and produce new data on the work Americans do every day to provide care for their families and communities. The project is supported by a two-year, $762,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Misty Heggeness, associate professor of public affairs & administration and co-director of the Kansas Population Center in KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research, is principal investigator for the project.
“We think of the care economy as all the economic activity involved in care for humans. That includes all institutions like day care, preschools, in-home care, nursing homes, janitorial work, nannies, housework and more,” Heggeness said. “All of the things that are economic activity designed around caring for humans.”
Traditionally, economic data compiled through government agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau and used by researchers has focused largely on activity outside the home, or “in the marketplace.” However, that overlooks countless hours of care work done by Americans — largely women, research has shown, both in the home and in the community and often done outside of the hours of traditional employment. Failing to consider such data or housing it in disparate locations fails to tell the full story of U.S. economic activity, Heggeness said.
The Care Board will gather existing economic data on the care economy from administrative sources such as programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC, Medicare, Medicaid and others and house it at a website that also contains a dashboard to help users access data useful to their cause.
“There are disparate places for this type of data, but we hope to be a repository for such information,” Heggeness said. “We will also be developing our own statistics.”
The Care Board will be accessible to anyone, but project leaders envision it as being particularly helpful to policymakers, researchers, media that report on the economy and nonprofit organizations dedicated to community work who will be able to access more detailed and specific data on their communities.
“The Care Board has the potential to transform how policymakers think about the role of care work in the U.S. economy. Our national data do not consistently collect and report on care work, and care work is essential for a well-functioning society,” said Donna Ginther, Roy A. Roberts and Regents Distinguished Professor of Economics and director of KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research. “IPSR is thrilled to support Professor Heggeness’ innovative and transformative work.”
Project leaders for the Care Board are creating an advisory board and plan to have the website live in year two of the project. They will then make presentations at workshops to alert government agencies, researchers and others to the website as they continue to add to and refine it.
The project will gather data and create statistics on care work throughout the nation and has the potential to be especially valuable in telling the story of care work in rural areas, which are often overlooked, Heggeness said. By gathering administrative data, the Care Board can help policymakers and researchers more fully understand issues like the wage gap, intergenerational poverty and how certain citizens shoulder a disproportionate load of care responsibilities.
For example, educational attainment is often looked to as a way to help address the wage gap. But that does not consider that, even if someone has acquired the education necessary to advance economically, they can be unable to do so if they are balancing care responsibilities such as child care, elder care or other tasks. Gathering such information and making it available can help policymakers craft better legislation to address issues such as the wage gap, researchers better understand where other problems might exist and agencies to address problems on a community level, Heggeness said.
“As a society, we’re bad at recognizing care activities as economic work,” Heggeness said. “One area that hasn’t been easily accessible to study and understand is unpaid care. So we’re going to look at how women and caregivers live their economic lives.”
Image: A working mother and child. Credit: Pexels.com