IIt’s the one thing everyone in Washington can agree on: Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling and is in dire need of repair. The Biden administration has outlined its comprehensive plan to overhaul dilapidated roads and bridges across America, while building the clean energy economy of the future, and that’s an important first step in the right direction. However, as my colleagues begin to debate and negotiate on specifics of this proposal, one thing has become very clear to me: the way we think about the infrastructure itself needs rethinking.
What we need to understand better as a nation is that our infrastructure not only resembles steel, concrete, and transportation, it is also the nurturing, patience, and diligence of care workers. Care work touches all of our lives from beginning to end, from the unpaid work of those who raise us as children, child care workers, teachers, domestic helpers and health workers, to those who care for us in old age and accompany us. until the end. of our lives. Caring is one of the strongest pillars of our economy, yet those who do this work – disproportionately black and brown women, often immigrants – are under-supported, undervalued, and under-compensated, if at all.
Just as our physical infrastructure is crumbling and requires substantial reinvestment in a 21st century economy, our infrastructure of care is fundamentally broken. As the only industrialized country in the world without a national paid family and medical leave program, only 17% of our population has obtained paid family leave through their employers. Hundreds of thousands face daunting waiting lists for essential home care. Childcare is the highest household expense for families in much of the United States. And the median annual salary for child care and home care workers is $ 25,510 and $ 17,200, respectively, resulting in high turnover and dependence on public assistance.
As the Biden administration unveils its plan for job creation and infrastructure, it can and should focus care work as part of rebuilding the country. More than 550,000 Americans have died and 30 million have been infected with Covid-19. We are looking at decades of trauma, pain, and long-term health impacts from the past year. But this doesn’t have to be a time of utter desolation. It can be an innovative opportunity to rethink our entire economy and the workers who support it.
As part of the upcoming infrastructure investment, Congress and the Biden administration can and should take important steps to address these long-standing injustices, including the approval of universal child care and pre-kindergarten, six months of paid family leave, and a home. free and of high quality. community services for seniors and people with disabilities, along with Medicare for all. Strong care programs also drive the economy – investing in care work invests in all of us. A recent study found that for every public dollar invested in the care sector, $ 2.80 in total economic activity is created; roughly, five additional jobs are created for every 10 jobs created in care work.
We must move beyond incrementalism and create new universal public programs that treat care as a right, bringing the New Deal level of ambition and imagination to the care economy. The New Deal vastly improved the quality of life for many and led to greater prosperity, but the key components excluded communities of color. What could we achieve, what unlimited potential could we achieve, if the prosperity of the New Deal extended to all?
In fact, that is precisely the goal of the current movement for a Green New Deal. In the Congressional resolution that I recently introduced with Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Agenda for Care for All, I stated that investments in care are a crucial part of transformative climate action. We cannot build a thriving 21st century economy without a strong foundation of care to sustain us.
In fact, care jobs should be considered green jobs: they are already relatively low in carbon and are becoming even more essential as we grapple with the health impacts of climate change. We need to make these fast-growing jobs the unionized, high-paying jobs of the future, just as we do in the green energy and manufacturing sectors. Basically, the next economy will be about taking care of each other, our communities, and the planet. That means we must think of investments in climate and care as part of a holistic and integrated agenda, and not prioritize one over the other in the recovery effort.
Additionally, the Biden administration may usher in a paradigm shift in the way we measure and evaluate our economy. The United Nations has estimated that the economic value of unpaid care work represents up to 40% of GDP. Scholarship has repeatedly questioned the value of economic models based on GDP and stock market trends, but without evaluations of workers’ quality of life, satisfaction, and health. What if we rooted our economy in solving problems and promoting the collective well-being, instead of generating profits to benefit a few? What if we invested massively in the arts, research, and restoration of the natural world, and gave everyone the time and financial freedom to care for their loved ones and unleash all their talents?
Caring can and should be at the center of our country’s rebirth. As Joe Biden unveils his next ambitious plan to rebuild the economy, he can shape the next vision of American exceptionalism by extending prosperity to those forced to live on the margins. Human potential is limitless, especially in a nation as rich as ours. We have the resources to guarantee high quality care for our people and a dignified life for those who provide it. Let’s do it.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism