Class and Care: The Roles of Private Intermediaries in the In-Home Care Industry in the United States and Israel

51 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2016 Last revised: 16 Dec 2016

See all articles by Orly Lobel

Orly Lobel

University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: 2001


Worker mistreatment and non-compliance with labor standards are widespread phenomena in the in-home care industry. The women who form the in-home care workforce have little bargaining power, few resources for empowerment, and are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In light of the absence of traditional state mechanisms to ensure careworkers' rights, this Article explores the different roles of private market intermediaries in protecting in-home careworkers. Specifically, the article presents original empirical research about private employment agencies that refer careworkers to in-home care jobs in the United States and in Israel.

In researching private intermediaries, the goals of the article are twofold. First, by exploring the practices, images, and language that construct the in-home care industry, the article provides insights into the lives of the people, particularly the careworkers, within it. Second, the article aims to illuminate ways in which the working conditions and dignity of careworkers can be improved and their abuse, exploitation, and discrimination prevented, while at the same time elevating the quality of care parents seek for their children. By focusing on private actors within the informal market, I show how new creative structures can be imagined in order to achieve these goals. I argue that although market structures today provide some incentives and mechanisms for private intermediaries to enhance the conditions of careworkers, these market incentives alone are insufficient to protect careworkers from exploitation and discrimination. By illustrating informal mechanisms and ad hoc solutions that private intermediaries such as employment agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), courts, and legislatures use to address the needs of the in-home care industry, the article provides a framework for more formal and comprehensive legal reform.

By juxtaposing the two contexts of in-home carework in the United States and in Israel, I demonstrate the problematic, yet important, roles of private intermediaries in shaping the in-home care employment relationship. I show how certain practices of employment agencies actively contribute to the further stratification of women along racial, national, and socio-economic lines in the already secondary, feminized labor market of the care industry. However, at the same time, I argue that employment agencies also serve as potential sources of empowerment and visibility, providing a framework for asserting labor rights, protecting against abuse, developing informal dispute resolution mechanisms, and mobilizing social networking among careworkers.

Keywords: Child Care, Employee Rights, Worker Mistreatment, In-Home Care, Private Intermediaries, Labor Standards, Labor Law and Legislation

JEL Classification: A00, A10, K36

Suggested Citation

Lobel, Orly, Class and Care: The Roles of Private Intermediaries in the In-Home Care Industry in the United States and Israel (2001). Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Vol. 24, 2001 (Originally: Harvard Women's Law Journal, Vol. 24, 2001) ; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 16-237. Available at SSRN:

Orly Lobel (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States


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