Workers engaged in reproductive labor—the caring work that maintains society and supports its growth—contribute to societal health while also enduring the harms of precarious labor and substantial work stress. How can we conceptualize the effects of reproductive labor on workers and society simultaneously? In this commentary, we analyze four types of more relational and less relational careworkers—homeless shelter workers, school food workers, home care aides, and household cleaners—during the COVID-19 pandemic. We then make a case for a new model of societal health that recognizes the contributions of careworkers and healthy carework. Our model includes multi-sectoral social policies supporting both worker health and societal health and acknowledges several dimensions of work stress for careworkers that have received insufficient attention. Ultimately, we argue that the effects of reproductive labor on workers and society must be considered jointly, a recognition that offers an urgent vision for repairing and advancing societal health.
- marginalized workers
- social determinants of health
- societal health
- work stress