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Becoming Homecare Workers: Chinese Immigrant Women in California's Oakland Chinatown

Mon, August 14, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 510B


This paper examines how immigrant women in the urban community of California’s Oakland Chinatown enter and experience homecare as both paid labor and gendered care. We draw upon semi-structured interviews with Chinese immigrant women who assist co-ethnic elderly, disabled seniors with their day-to-day living needs to better understand what this type of work entails and how specific groups of immigrants come to be located in it. Specifically, we examine how gender, migration, and labor market dynamics shape the trajectories of immigrant women into homecare work as well as the role of unions and community organizations in mediating the informal dimensions of care work. Our research findings suggest that the growth of publicly-subsidized homecare jobs has created a new occupational niche for immigrant women workers who face serious labor market barriers in urban service economies. Immigrant women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old who formerly worked as garment or electronics assembly workers or in ethnic restaurants and small markets are increasingly finding paid work through California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) system, which subsidizes in-home care for low-income, disabled seniors. While their experience of homecare work is shaped more by the cultural and classed expectations of immigrant seniors than the fixed and formal conditions laid out in specific IHSS contracts, the nature of California’s personal home care system as a state-subsidized and unionized sector introduces women to new forms of organizational support and new experiences of collective action by the union, which challenge the everyday informality of home-based labor.