Caregiving is an economic issue for three reasons, said Taryn Morrissey, who teaches public policy, focusing on early childhood care and family economic stability, at American University.
The sector employs many people, and is one of the fastest-growing and least likely to lose jobs to automation. It frees up people to work elsewhere — research has shown that universal pre-K, for example, immediately increases women’s labor force participation. Finally, it prepares the workers of the future: High-quality early childhood care and education shrink racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.
And now, the economy cannot fully reopen after coronavirus lockdowns without professional caregiving.
“We all benefit economically if people with caregiving burdens can do things that are more economically efficient,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard. “One can talk all they want about bringing back manufacturing and supply chains, but that is going to be highly automated. So if you think about the future of the economy and work and what pathways to the middle class are going to be, care jobs are going to be essential.”
In both his presentation of the caregiving plan and in its substance, Mr. Biden framed the issue as one that affects everyone, regardless of gender. Often, it’s female politicians who speak most publicly about caregiving needs. An older man speaking from personal experience about caring for his young children as a single father was a striking change.
The language he chose also reflected that it’s not just about women. His plan, he said, would be “allowing husbands and wives to go back to work, and providing many people the opportunity to get a job that’s a decent job: caring.”
His policy proposals focused not just on new mothers, as many do, but also on the full range of caregiving needs from birth to death. A big part of his plan was improving caregiving jobs — by raising wages, guaranteeing benefits, providing career training and allowing unionizing. Making these jobs better jobs would help the women and people of color who disproportionately do them, research has shown — and also recruit more men into the field.