Not only the very young, people with disabilities or the elderly win here. This infrastructure bill would provide an overdue pay increase for direct caregivers, who, like child carers, are disproportionately women and colored. They are important workers, but they are undervalued and all too often underpaid. Over a decade ago, researchers at the Levy Economics Institute in Bard found that investing in the care sector creates twice as many jobs per dollar invested as a similar investment in physical infrastructure.
However, researchers at PHI, which has worked for decades to transform care for the elderly and services for people with disabilities, have found that 15 percent of direct caregivers live in poverty and more than 40 percent depend on public support. Direct care work is one of the most common occupations for low-wage workers, especially women. It’s work that often doesn’t require a lot of education and training, and these jobs have high turnover.
The investments made by the administration will have an enormous impact on the present and future of work: direct care work is one of the fastest growing professions in the country. More than 1.1 million new jobs are forecast by 2029. The next administration plan should include similar plans to improve the wages and conditions of childcare workers and to make care more affordable.
The American Jobs Act makes it clear that the additional Medicaid funding will enable higher wages, better benefits, and union representation for direct caregivers, while expanding access to home care services for more patients. Now Congress must turn the plan into law – and fund it.
While critics discuss infrastructure semantics, over 76 percent of Americans support large investments in nursing infrastructure. No matter what you call it, investments are good for workers, families, the health system, and the economy at large.
Molly Kinder is a Fellow and Martha Ross is a Senior Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.
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