Care economy investments: Not just better care, but a growing economy
Washington’s chattering class is busy debating whether President Biden’s proposed investments in better care for seniors, children and people with disabilities fit the dictionary definition of “infrastructure.” But one factor should be beyond debate: If we build a bigger, better care system, it will grow our economy and create good jobs, especially among groups hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
A new analysis shows that if we want to recover from the pandemic induced economic hit, we need to build care systems and fix roads and bridges. Doing both will help Americans reach a single, important goal: getting back to work.
Of course, care investments will improve the lives of our most vulnerable groups. But there’s a reason we call home care for older Americans, child care for our youngest and care for people with disabilities “the care economy” — millions of Americans work in these professions, and providing care is a huge segment of our economy.
During the campaign, Biden proposed $775 billion in investments in this segment of the economy over 10 years. And he’s on track to meet that goal: The American Jobs Plan includes a $400 billion boost to home and community-based care for seniors, and the administration is preparing more care economy proposals.
The economic effect of these investments would be profound. A recent analysis estimates that a 10-year, $775 billion investment could yield 22.5 million new jobs and generate $220 billion in economic activity.
Elected officials should take heed — it’s likely their state will get a big economic and jobs boost from these care investments. A state by state analysis suggests that caregiving investments could generate more than 560,000 new jobs in Michigan, almost 500,000 in Pennsylvania, more than 450,000 in Arizona, more than 265,000 in Wisconsin, almost 360,000 in Virginia, more than 118,000 in West Virginia and nearly 34,000 in New Hampshire.
Some in Washington may not grasp the importance of these investments, but the American people get it. We know that more support for caregiving is popular; polling from the Women Effect Action Fund, which I co-founded, showed that just after the election 74 percent of battleground state voters supported the Biden campaign’s care economy promises.
And more recent surveys by other groups show that unlike much of the nation’s political debate, this is not a divisive or partisan issue. Recent surveys by Morning Consult and Data for Progress show nearly three-quarters of Americans support the specific caregiving proposals in Biden’s American Jobs Plan — consistent with the findings of our November survey. Strikingly, both surveys found these proposals are popular not just with large majorities of Democrats and independents, but with nearly two-thirds of Republican voters. Other elements of a care economy agenda, such as paid leave, likewise have support from roughly three-quarters of voters in key states.
So, politicians who mock elder care investments are mocking help for seniors, jobs for our economy and the preferences of their own supporters. They’re also opposing plans that could help combat income inequality and some of the worst economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professions like child care and elder care are disproportionately held by women and people of color. Nationwide, women account for 94 percent of child care workers and 84 percent of nursing care workers. In states including Virginia and Arizona, more than half of care workers are people of color.
We know the COVID-19 economy has hit women and people of color hardest, with participation in the workforce plummeting because of the need to care for others. So, creating jobs in sectors that offer opportunity to women and people of color is part of a smart COVID-19 economic recovery.
We should invest in the care economy because our seniors, children and people with disabilities deserve better care. But if that’s not enough for Congress to get behind these proposals, they should consider the fact that they’re turning down millions of new jobs and an infusion of activity into our economy — not to mention the desires of their constituents. The American people see the wisdom of supporting the care economy. It’s time for Congress to see it too.
Lisa Guide is the cofounder of the Women Effect Action Fund and associate director of the Rockefeller Family Fund.