Why is caring labor important to public administration?
Public administrators perform caring labor on a daily basis. We know caring labor when we see it. It is the nurse who spends additional time talking to a lonely patient, it is the office clerk resolving the needs of the citizen (even if this means going beyond their listed job duties), it is the friendly smile and additional courtesy when you get your drivers license. It is work contributed with the intent of serving others and with the goal of improving outcomes for members of society. It is a large part of the work of public administrators.
Police officers, teachers, firefighters, city managers, social workers, and many other professionals working in public and non-profit agencies are providing the labor of care and building relationships with citizens on an on-going basis. Caring labor builds social capital and increases social welfare in communities all across the world.
In addition to paid caring labor, thousand of volunteers contribute unpaid voluntary labor. In addition, paid workers often donate unpaid caring labor to their organizations and the people they serve.
We must pay attention to the labor of care in public administration because it contributes to positive social outcomes, it is embedded in the normative orientation of public administration practice, it is often unmeasured and underpaid, and it is vital to the improved social welfare of societies.
CARING LABOR AND THE LABOR OF CARE
According to economist Nancy Folbre in The Invisible Heart, caring labor is performed “on a person-to-person basis” and “in relationships” (Folbre 2001). It is often unpaid and is a “non-market” variable, with a difficult to identify price (Folbre 2001). Unlike labor in general, it is often performed on a voluntary basis, within the context of family and friends, or in addition to reimbursed labor. It is concerned with emotional well-being and respect for others , and is not work for pure pecuniary gain (Folbre 2001; Hoschschild 2003). It is based on the ethic of responsibility (Gilligan 1993; Jones 2001). The price does not fully represent the entire value of the exchange.
SOCIAL CAPITAL and NON-PROFIT AND GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
There is an increasing concern that the adoption of market-based models by public and non-profit agencies may lead to social costs such as reduction in social capital and increased inequities for individuals who are unable to pay for services at the market price (Salamon 1997; Folbre 2001; and Eikenberry and Kluver 2004). There is a fear by public and non-profit organizations that if decision making resembles that of the for-profit sector, that a there will be reduced services for individuals who need them, but cannot afford them. Care requires making choices, in public and non-profit agencies, based on a vision and mission, instead of being based on profit-based motives. It means that decision to offer some services are not based on traditional cost/benefit analysis, but on variables outside the economic equation such as ethical stance and altruistic social values (Folbre 2001). Care-based decisions require the provision of services to individuals who cannot pay the market rate (Folbre 2001). Children, those in poverty, and those who are ill or disabled are potential customers for care that would not be provided for in a competitive exchange economy (Folbre 2001). In work where care is a key component, such as in the fields of education, health care, and social services, it is often excluded from the formal cost/benefit analysis and therefore is undervalues undervalued to labor of care and of service (Folbre 2001). Supplying care, therefore, often results in under-compensation for the work of care laborers, who are mostly women, regardless of the full value of the service.
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