Much has been written about how our economy is changing, particularly in light of the digital revolution. This economy is defined by entirely new ways of organizing and working together, by an energizing sense of possibility, and by a seemingly insatiable thirst for problem solving.
But a central question remains: problem-solving for and with whom? How will the new economy engage and support the least visible among us? Now that we’re living in the era of tech-enabled scale and efficiency, it’s time to elevate empathy and equity if we hope to shape a more caring economy that works for all of us.
These questions remind me of many of the people I meet in my work to bring recognition and basic labor protections to domestic workers around the United States. People like Erlinda, who cares for the elderly in Chicago. Erlinda became a caregiver when she arrived to this country, remembering the fulfillment of caring for the elders in her community in the Philippines. At our first meeting, she shared a story about a client she referred to as “my lady.”
They had a morning ritual. When Erlinda arrived in the mornings, she would sing while she helped her lady out of bed and in and out of the bath to start their day. One morning, rather than ask her to sing, she asked for her hand. Erlinda knew immediately that her beloved client was preparing to say good-bye. So she quickly gathered the family together and they surrounded her in a circle of care as she passed away. Erlinda was proud that those final moments were exactly as she deserved: full of care and human connection.
As much as she loves her work caring for others, it’s a tough job. In addition to the emotional challenges associated with illness and end of life, the hours can be long and unpredictable. The average annual median income for a home care worker in the United States is $15,000, a wage so low that many of our greatest caregivers are forced to find other work.
And yet home care is in huge demand - it’s the fastest growing occupation in the U.S. economy, a result of the aging generation and our longer lifespans. Tech companies have emerged to help families find caregivers, and they are creating jobs in the process. But like other parts of the new economy, the question is, will they be poverty wage jobs or jobs that acknowledge the true value of the work?
Thankfully, we can already point to some exciting ways that business entrepreneurs and leaders are coming together with changemakers to ensure it’s the latter. For example, our team at National Domestic Workers Alliance recently teamed up with Care.com, the largest tech company in the industry, to promote good work and fair standards in care work. In June we launched a campaign, together with an employer group, Hand-in-Hand, called the Fair Care Pledge to encourage employers of caregivers and domestic workers to commit to paying fair wages and offering paid time off and a clear work agreement. Over 40,000 individual employers have taken the pledge, and our numbers continue to grow.
This same concept is reaching into other parts of the new economy through the Good Work Code, a simple framework for tech companies in particular to create good work for the growing numbers of people who work in the online economy. The framework includes eight principles: safety, stability and flexibility, transparency, shared prosperity, a livable wage, inclusion and input, support and connection, growth and development. A dozen companies took the lead in signing onto the Good Work Code when it launched last October, and a new round of companies will be announced in the coming weeks.
Finally, in October of last year, a diverse group of leaders across business, non-profit, academia and labor signed onto a letter calling for portable benefits - a framework for benefits that allows workers to move from job to job without risking access to a basic safety net. With increasing numbers of workers working part-time and temporary jobs, or on multiple platforms, many can no longer access the benefits and security we’ve long taken for granted. The concept has gained traction, with important champions in government and the tech economy.
These advancements show what’s possible in many parts of the new economy. They also serve as an important reminder: we shape our economy as much as it shapes us. We have an opportunity right now to make sure the digital revolution is supported by a long-overdue revolution in values - one that embeds empathy and equity more centrally in how we imagine progress and success. And one that channels the wave of innovation we are living through toward making life better for Erlinda and for all of the people whose work enriches our lives and moves our world forward.
This post is part of a “Thriving in a World of Change” series produced by The Huffington Post and Ashoka. The series is part of The Huffington Post’s coverage of The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, and explores how, in an age of unprecedented change and connectivity, we must transition quickly to an everyone-a-contributor world with empathetic ethics at its core. Read all the posts in the series here.
Photo of domestic worker taken by INation