Biden’s ‘Transformative’ Plan Redefines ‘Infrastructure’ to Include Caregiving


President Joe Biden. (Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images)

President Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan proposes a credible down payment on meeting the nation’s long-neglected physical infrastructure needs—$621 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, rail, ports, waterways, airports, and electric vehicles—and it nods in some meaningful ways to the climate concerns raised by campaigners for a more ambitious Green New Deal. The plan, which the president outlined Wednesday, also seeks vital investments in clean drinking water, housing, and high-speed broadband Internet services. But the boldest component of the president’s agenda is its $400 billion commitment to fund the care infrastructure of a just and humane society.

“This plan is historic, transformative,” says Ai-jen Poo, the cofounder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who for years has been working to convince policy-makers that improving the circumstance of caregivers for the elderly and people with disabilities must be seen as a critical infrastructure investment.

Biden’s proposal embraces this idea of “care infrastructure,” and adopts the language of advocates, as it seeks to “solidify the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.” With a call on Congress to “put $400 billion toward expanding access to quality, affordable home- or community-based care for aging relatives and people with disabilities,” Biden is advancing an agenda that his team says “will help hundreds of thousands of Americans finally obtain the long-term services and support they need, while creating new jobs and offering caregiving workers a long-overdue raise, stronger benefits, and an opportunity to organize or join a union and collectively bargain.”

After generations of policy neglect, by both Democratic and Republican administrations, caregivers are finally getting a measure of the recognition and the support they deserve. This represents remarkable progress, says Poo, who told The Nation, “Investing in home and community-based services and the care workforce will help make these jobs good jobs for the first time, and secure services for people who rely on them. The fact that one of the groups of workers excluded from the original New Deal labor laws is at the forefront of this new New Deal moment says so much. It’s incredibly hopeful.”

Biden’s plan proposes this radical shift in thinking about infrastructure for two reasons. First, advocacy groups and unions have worked for years to make the case for improving the lives of caregivers—as an economic and social justice priority. Second, the coronavirus pandemic has made the need for this sort of investment all the more evident. Poo, the author of The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America, and Heather McCulloch, the founder and executive director of Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap, have made a compelling case in recent months that as the country comes out of a pandemic year that was especially hard on the women who have historically provided so much of the care to so many Americans, “it’s time to think bigger about how we define infrastructure investment and ask who benefits.”

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