This New Yorker Article About Childcare, Emotional Labor, and Economics Is a Must-Read

Photo credit: Steven Depolo, CC BY 2.0.

Today’s must-read longread is a The New Yorker article titled “The Cost of Caring:”

Mother for Hire

The link pulls up a different title, “Mother for Hire,” which is both an illustration of how new media constantly tests and rewrites headlines in order to determine which one performs the best and also an acknowledgement that this piece is about a very complicated topic. (There’s at least one more headline I’ve seen on this article: “The Sacrifices of an Immigrant Caregiver.”)

Rachel Aviv tells the story of a woman named Emma, who leaves her home, her husband, and her nine daughters in the Philippines to become an O.F.W, or “overseas Filipino worker,” in America.

Her first job, in 2000, is nannying for what appears to be an upper-middle-class family:

Emma was paid three hundred and seventy-five dollars a week to care for two girls, who were one and three years old. She slept in a room in the basement five nights a week. On her first day, she was confused when her boss returned to the house wearing gym clothes after being gone for only a few hours. Emma called her sister to report that her boss didn’t even have a job. “Don’t ask,” Virgie said. “You’re just a helper.”

Emma remains in the U.S., overstaying her visa but paying taxes in the hope that when immigration laws change, she’ll be considered a good candidate for citizenship. Emma’s story—the choices she makes, how her relationship with her daughters slowly evolves as she continues working overseas—is the most compelling part of the article, but there’s also an economic piece that Aviv subtly addresses as she describes how Emma’s jobs change.

First, Emma begins taking on more and more eldercare jobs. Then, roughly fifteen years after arriving in America, she becomes a nanny for a very different type of family:

Bowie’s parents worked as nurses and struggled to afford child care. More than once, Emma remarked that their [400 square foot] apartment was smaller than hers. Bowie slept in a closet separated by a curtain, and her parents slept in the living room, which overlooked an airshaft.

This part-time job doesn’t bring in enough money, so Emma also works four housekeeping gigs.

The article’s thesis comes near the beginning:

Mothers and daughters leave their families so that they can do the type of “women’s work” — caring for the young, the elderly, and the infirm — that females in affluent countries no longer want to do or have time to do. They function as what María Ibarra, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University, calls “emotional proletarians”: they “produce authentic emotion in exchange for a wage.”

This is all true, although it makes me want to scream WHAT ABOUT THE MEN? But what Aviv’s piece also reveals is how quickly this affluent country shifted. Emma increases her hustle so she can keep working, constantly wishing she could spend more time with her family. So do her clients.

Read the whole thing. It’s a fantastic article.

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