Last week, the Biden/Harris administration announced its $2 trillion American Jobs Plan to rebuild infrastructure and reshape the economy. Through improving the nation’s infrastructure, the plan is designed to employ millions of people, invest in clean energy, housing, and advance environmental justice, among other objectives. But the boldest component of the proposal is its $400 billion commitment to fund the care economy — everything from expanding access to at-home or community-based care to improving wages and work conditions for care workers, many of whom are women of color.
“For too long, caregivers — who are disproportionately women, women of color, and immigrants — have been unseen, underpaid, and undervalued,” President Biden said during his remarks on his economic vision for the future. “This plan alone, the American Jobs Plan, changes that with better wages, benefits, and opportunities for millions of people who will be able to get to work in an economy that works for them.”
According to the proposal, expanding Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) will improve caregiving jobs by increasing wages, including benefits, and allowing care workers to collectively bargain.
The $400 billion commitment in strengthening the care economy comes after millions of women have had to leave the workforce to take on childcare and other caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, women have lost approximately 5.1 million net jobs, accounting for 53.5% of overall net job loss, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
The American Jobs Plan aims to create approximately 18 million new jobs through a $2 trillion infrastructure investment, an essential component to our recovery from the pandemic and intertwined economic fallout. We need to ensure that the job sectors that will mostly benefit , such as auto manufacturers, semiconductor makers and fiber-optic companies, renewable-energy producers, home builders, and construction firms, are recruiting, retaining, and promoting women workers.
Given the large exodus of women from the workforce that has resulted in women’s labor force participation rate dropping to 57.0% — the lowest level since 1988 — we must apply all tools to strengthen the workforce participation of women, specifically women of color, who have been overwhelmingly impacted by job loss. The proposal’s investment in the care infrastructure is a major victory, and one that will benefit a workforce predominantly employed by women, and even more women of color. As part of their call to Congress to tackle long-term unemployment and underemployment through new subsidized jobs programs, the Biden/Harris administration should continue to pay particular attention to the sectors dominated by women workers, such as leisure and hospitality and retail and trade.
We must also learn from the pandemic and economic recession by examining what caused so many women to exit the labor force and establish policies that address these causes. The fact that millions of women had to leave the workforce due to increased caregiving responsibilities is only one side of the ‘shecession’ story. Turning the page reveals that women were often left with no choice but to leave the workforce due to a lack of work-family policies and protections such as paid leave and flexible work schedules.
Lack of access to paid leave is an issue of race and gender. Higher income workers have greater access to paid leave than lower income workers; women workers have higher rates of unmet need for leave than men; Black, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native American working people have higher rates of unmet need for leave than white working people; and Hispanic working people are less likely than non-Hispanic workers to have access to paid leave in the first place.
We are encouraged by the next step of recovery announced by the Biden administration — the American Family Plan — which will include the social infrastructure needed to fully and equitably realize the American Jobs Plan and to address long-standing and persistent racial injustices. For women specifically, maintaining an attachment to the workforce is vital to our economic stability. Paid family leave and paid sick days can help us accomplish that.
A recent study by Bloomberg found that global economic growth could get a $20 trillion boost if women are educated at the same levels as men and hold the same number of jobs. The American Jobs Plan — and coming American Family Plan — provides a unique opportunity to align public spending with what the economy needs: policy changes that result in more women entering the workforce, like those that bolster female access to secondary education, child care, and flexible work arrangements.