The Seattle Times: Time to recognize caregiving as part of infrastructure
By Martin J. Walsh and Marilyn Strickland
The pandemic put a spotlight on the essential role of care workers to our families and our economy. As we emerge from COVID-19 and grapple with its economic and social shock waves, working families and care workers must get back on their feet if we’re serious about rebuilding the infrastructure of our economy. Especially if we want women to fully participate in the recovery.
Both of our life experiences have taught us just how difficult it is to balance caregiving responsibilities with the demands of work and life. The pandemic is reinforcing what we already know — parents, guardians, spouses and adult children — cannot return to work without the support of care workers. Our loved ones include young children, elders and family members with disabilities and chronic illness.
At some point in our lives, we will all rely on care in one form or another. Think about all the responsibilities and time required to provide high-quality caregiving. Yet as we have seen in our hometowns of Boston and Tacoma and communities across the United States, our care workforce continues to be underpaid, undervalued and unsupported. Not surprisingly, America’s care workers are primarily women, people of color and immigrants.
As an example, women make up 94% of the child-care workforce, often earning low wages with no benefits. A stunning 2 million women have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, many because they lacked access to child care, elder care and paid leave. These women are workers and business owners in every sector, including the military, whose families depend on their income to meet basic needs.
If so much of our workforce and economy depends on caregiving, why isn’t it considered critical infrastructure? The time has come for a historic adjustment of our mindset and our national policies to align with the rest of the world. Investing in child care alone could increase our GDP by $274 billion per year.
President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan began this work with rescue checks, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and more. But before the pandemic, there were too many child-care deserts, insufficient resources for community-based elder care, families struggling to find and pay for in-home care, and workers forced to choose between keeping a job and providing care for loved ones.
That is why the president’s Build Back Better agenda must fund home- and community-based care for people who are elderly and those with disabilities — care that many families need but can’t afford. It will commit additional funding to increase the supply of child-care facilities, and make it affordable for every family. It will guarantee that workers have paid leave during emergencies.
And just as important, it will ensure that care workers earn a living wage, get improved training and career opportunities and have the right to organize and join a union. This plan will also provide direct support to children and families by extending tax cuts for middle income America.
As our nation recovers from this pandemic and employers are hiring again, national support for working families and care workers must be a top priority. As two former mayors, we know that caregiving is infrastructure. To Build Back Better, we must support an economy that works for all of us — especially our care workers and all those who take on caregiving responsibilities.
Martin J. Walsh leads the U.S. Department of Labor with a strong connection to working people, and a commitment to creating an economy that works for all. A lifelong champion of equity and fairness, he is a former mayor of Boston.
Marilyn Strickland represents Washington state's 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of Tacoma, Olympia, Lakewood, Puyallup and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. She is the only Black woman who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, is one of the first Korean-American women elected to Congress and the first Black member to represent the Pacific Northwest at the federal level.