Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rolled out the third part of his economic plan, “Build Back Better,” on Tuesday.
The first plank focused on manufacturing jobs, the second on climate change. This time the former vice president’s focus is on caregiving, a sign of a growing recognition ― fueled by the coronavirus pandemic ― that caring for children, the sick, people with disabilities and the elderly is a core part of the U.S. economy and not a sideline women’s issue.
“The pandemic hits and squeezes and tightens on everyone,” Biden said Tuesday afternoon in a speech in Delaware. He acknowledged that the U.S. has long struggled with a lack of affordable, high-quality child care and elder care but emphasized that the current crisis has made things much worse.
“We’re trapped within a caregiving crisis within an economic crisis within a health care crisis,” Biden said.
In a call with reporters Monday night, senior campaign staffers said that the Biden plan marks the first time a presidential candidate actually centered caregiving in an economic plan. Typically, presidential candidates like to focus on more “hardcore” economic issues like manufacturing or trade.
But the pandemic has sparked a growing recognition that caregiving provides the framework for the U.S. economy to function. Without child care for children or someone to tend to the sick, people simply cannot go to work.
“The paid and unpaid work of raising children, of educating children is often the invisible backdrop to what people think of as our regular economic activity in America,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and co-founder of the advocacy group MomsRising, told HuffPost recently. “Now that we’re in a pandemic, we see that this work is at the core of our economy, our communities and our country.”
Called the Biden Plan for Mobilizing American Talent and Heart to Create a 21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce, the plan would cost $775 billion over 10 years and would be funded, the campaign said, by rolling back tax breaks for real estate investors and increasing tax compliance on high-income earners.
Biden’s agenda looks at all kinds of caregiving, from cradle to grave. It beefs up funding for child care, expanding tax credits for parents, raising pay for child care workers and calling for universal pre-kindergarten.
The plan would also increase funding for in-home care to keep elderly and disabled people out of institutional care facilities. Notably, Biden’s agenda focuses on child care workers and promises to boost their pay, benefits and career prospects.
“This is about dignity and respect for working people,” Biden said Tuesday.
Advocates hailed the proposal for the way it centers caregiving as critical to the economy.
“It’s always been a struggle to have policymakers and leaders understand that the care economy is a core part of the economy,” said Ai-jen Poo, senior adviser to Care in Action, an advocacy group for women of color. “Just to have that recognition that this isn’t a side issue, an add-on or a nice-to-have; that this is core to our economic future and that it is a public good ... is a big breakthrough.”
The plan’s focus on care workers, who have long been underpaid and undervalued, is particularly important, she said. These workers, typically women of color, have been excluded for generations from the protections and supports of government policy dating back to the New Deal.
Now, caregiving jobs are poised to be in increasing demand; one of the fastest growing segments of the population are people over age 85, she pointed out. Meanwhile, a growing number of millennials will need child care for their young ones.
“Our reality today is that the people we’re counting on to care for us and our families, who matter most to us, can’t take care of their own families,” said Poo.
Child care proponents also praised the plan.
“It’s a huge recognition of the importance of child care both for families and the economy,” said Katherine Gallagher Robbins, the director of child care and early education at the Center for Law and Social Policy. “It’s also really important that the plan addresses the needs of child care workers, which is critical to increasing equity.”
Robbins’ organization has long supported increasing funding to the Child Care and Development Black Grant, a federal program, something this new plan includes. This is critical for low-income families who are particularly impacted by the high costs of care, she said.
In the call with reporters Monday night, Biden campaign staffers bristled when asked by one reporter if his caregiving plan would be mainly the responsibility of Biden’s vice presidential pick. Biden has promised to select a woman as a running mate.
“This plan speaks to issues that families and people across the country are dealing with. Not just women,” the staffer said, emphasizing Biden’s experience as a single father after the death of his first wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972.
Biden recalled the five years he spent as a single dad in his speech on Tuesday, saying, “It was hard. If I didn’t have my mom, my sister and my brother, I don’t know how I [would have] been able to afford it.”
He acknowledged that most people don’t have that kind of support. “There’s just that feeling, that sense where you just don’t know if everything’s going to turn OK,” Biden said in his speech. “Well, I’m here to tell you that it can be and it will be.”
Though child care and caregiving in general are not women’s issues, it’s hard not to feel the influence of the women who were in the running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
Child care was a central policy proposal in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign; and issues like family leave were also key to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign. Hillary Clinton put child care and family leave on her agenda when she was the 2016 Democratic nominee, although they weren’t a core economic priority.
Long underfunded and undervalued, child care has gotten increased attention during the pandemic as so many working parents are struggling to care for (and homeschool) their children while trying to remain employed.
So far, however, that high profile has not translated into action at the policy level. Though there was some funding for child care in the March economic stimulus bill, a push for further funding has not gone anywhere.
In a recent survey, 40% of child care providers said they would soon be out of business if they did not receive more assistance.