Here’s another way to look at them.
The support that family caregivers provide to others who work and study outside the home is quiet, mostly invisible and mostly by women. It also forms the bedrock of many people’s lives. It’s what allows them to leave the home to work and go to college and support their families and get ahead. Call it economic infrastructure, because that is what family care giving is. Our economy would collapse without it.
Using this as a frame draws a distinction — the word “infrastructure” connotes something solid, essential, distributed and in the public interest. But as we have all learned in the course of the last pandemic year, care infrastructure is just that: Caregivers are “rocks” and the solid foundation upon which the economy works. Without it, our families, our paychecks, our labor force participation, our workplaces all decline and we all suffer and collectively fall behind.
The harsh truth is that for many caregivers, we do quit our jobs to care for new babies, the children now home from school, some indefinitely, the sick relatives… and ourselves. Millions of women have left the workforce because of it.
Unfortunately, as Biden is trying to advance a holistic understanding on the issue, some deride for political gain the concept of family care giving as an infrastructure fundamental to the economy. Instead they aim to tarnish it with the “social welfare” tag.
The White House Communications Director, Kate Bedingfield, a working mother herself, has said unequivocally, “If they want to pick a fight about whether these things that are foundational to families’ ability to put food on the table and do their jobs are infrastructure or not, that is a fight we welcome.”
We are at an inflection point. A vision for 21st century infrastructure can include, this time, a workforce and an invisible group of laborers that hasn’t been acknowledged, paid or has lived in poverty for decades.
Let’s choose the right words for this life-changing legislation and stick to it: Caring for humans is essential infrastructure and the backbone of our economy. Neglect this infrastructure, everything collapses and crumbles. Invest in it, and you build a stronger society and economy that lifts everyone up. It is long overdue. Just ask women, they have been doing it for decades.