Caring for loved ones is a universal need, writes Ai-jen Poo.
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Soon, we will face yet another decisive moment for the U.S.—the 2024 elections.

Candidates are already competing for our attention, hitting the stage with soundbites and perspectives on the political issues of the day from education to foreign policy. But in the first presidential election since the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the fragility of our way of life, one issue cannot be missed. It’s the issue the pandemic brought home for quite literally every family: care. From child care to paid family and medical leave to care for older and disabled people, families are struggling to access and afford essential support for their loved ones. Care is a conversation at every kitchen table in America; it’s a universal need, regardless of one’s politics. And in 2024, it should be at the top of every candidate’s agenda.

From the time we are born to the time we take our last breath, we rely on the care of others—our parents and family members, child care workers, and direct care workers. Today’s economic and demographic realities mean we not only need more care than past generations, but we also need stronger care systems to reflect our modern realities.

Every day in the U.S, approximately 10,000 of us turn 65, and 10,000 of us are born. We are living longer, which also means more of us are living with disabilities and chronic illnesses like Alzheimer’s. At the same time, a majority of young children are growing up in households where all the adults must work outside the home to make ends meet. Working people in America are having to navigate making a living and supporting their families under more complex conditions every day, and it’s costly. The numbers aren’t adding up because our care system is among the least developed and most haphazard in the developed world. And what does exist, especially when it comes to affordable options, is under threat.

Read More: What America’s Aging Population Means for Family Caregivers Like Me

The people of Lincoln County, Wis., a rural county with approximately 28,000 residents, have for decades relied upon the Pine Crest Nursing Home, a highly rated, skilled nursing facility for older adults. Owned by the county, it is one of the few affordable care options available to the growing population of aging residents. Rather than investing in building up this nursing home, county elected officials are looking to shut it down. This is a county where the median income is approximately $60,000 per year, where 24% of the population is over the age of 65, and where Donald Trump received 58% of the vote in 2016 and 61% in 2020.

Residents like Dora Gorski have come together to form People for Pine Crest to stop the closure, organizing press conferences and protests, passing the hat to raise funds. In the recent holiday parade, volunteers organized a float with a “Grinch Who Stole Pine Crest.” The local newspaper took notice of the activism and fielded a survey of county residents. Of the 782 respondents, 85% said they not only supported the idea of Pine Crest Nursing Home remaining a county-owned facility but would also support an increase in their real-estate taxes for five or more years in order to keep it that way. They have brought their concerns about access to care to all the decision-makers in the area, making clear the challenges involved in finding, recruiting, and retaining local care workers because the wages are chronically low. These citizens are preparing to take their concerns straight to the ballot box in November.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, a care worker named Jovanna La Fosse recently became a U.S. citizen and cast her first vote in November’s election. Jovanna was one of the many domestic workers volunteering at Care in Action, an advocacy organization, to get out the vote in her state. For all the years she worked cleaning houses and caring for young children, she struggled to pay her bills and never had a paid sick day. Care workers—predominantly women of color—are three times more likely to be living in poverty than other workers. They are, on average, paid 75 cents for every dollar their peers make in other occupations. These conditions are not only unjust—they’re also fueling a care crisis.

Yanet Limon-Amado, a leading organizer and Virginia’s State Director at Care in Action, grew up watching her mom labor under backbreaking conditions as a domestic worker, even accompanying her to work when they didn’t have child care. Determined to change how women like her mom are respected and valued, she signed up to work for Care in Action. She led a statewide effort to mobilize voters to the polls to support care policy change and better pay for workers. Over half a million calls and countless hours of grassroots door-knocking later, workers like Yanet helped ensure thousands of voters who provide and rely upon care exercised their power to vote.

By speaking to a broad swath of voters about an important kitchen-table issue, they were able to mobilize a coalition of voters not previously imagined. It makes sense; care is a top economic pain point for millions of families. There are some issues that are widely felt, but are not burning or deeply felt. This one is both, because care has never been a choice. We always have and always will take care of our loved ones. We know we need better systems, a better-supported workforce, and an investment on the part of our government. As citizens, we now have a choice at the ballot to vote for the care solutions we need and deserve and for the candidates who are willing to make them a priority. Care is essential for families in every state and on every side of the political divide—and it will be top of mind when it comes time to vote next year.

Ai-jen Poo is President of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Executive Director of Caring Across Generations, and an advisor for Care in Action. She is a member of the 2012 TIME100.

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