She tried taking turns staying home with the father of her children, a fellow ironworker, but all that did was make them both miss out on earning pension credits determined by the number of hours worked. It all came to a head in the past two months and Briana joined the millions of women who left the workforce - unable to pursue the family-sustaining career she's been working so hard for, for nearly a decade.
Stories like Briana's are familiar to families around the country. And as the White House and Senate negotiators flesh out an infrastructure plan, it's precisely workers like her who are at risk of being left out of the improvements the plan has promised. A significant investment in care, including affordable access to high-quality child and elder care, would reach every American. But leaving behind that support would stunt the economic growth infrastructure spending could provide.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that he had agreed to a compromise deal
with Republicans on infrastructure. While many of its details remain unknown, we do know it includes many critical investments for Americans: roads and bridges, public transit, broadband, water and power systems and more. But so far the deal leaves out Biden's proposal to spend $400 million to bolster caregiving for aging and disabled Americans. Biden's original infrastructure plan, which contained provisions to build and update energy-efficient child care centers, already fell short on raising the wages and benefits of child care workers. Now, the bipartisan deal seems to have limited funding for child care facilities even more with only a provision that eliminates lead water pipes.
Meanwhile, help for home care workers and working mothers like Briana who need access to affordable child care is expected to be folded into a separate bill, which Democrats will try to pass on their own through reconciliation, which requires a lower threshold of 51 votes (or 50 votes with the vice president breaking the tie). While Biden has said he wants both bills passed in tandem
, Senate Republicans who agreed to the bipartisan deal are now threatening to back out
in an attempt to stymie the reconciliation bill -- leaving the future of both pieces of legislation hanging in the balance.
It is critical to invest in care at the same time as we invest in bridges and broadband. The infrastructure plan outlined by the White House this week is significant and holds a lot of promise for our economy. But without another corresponding bill that addresses the care infrastructure workers like Briana count on to be able to do their jobs, that promise will come up short.
The pandemic has revealed that our reliance on the underpaid and undervalued caregiving work of women, and particularly women of color, places an unsustainable burden on those women, their families and the economy overall. Yet even before the pandemic, working people who most need access to these vital supports were least likely to have it.
It's not enough to go back to where we were.
We can't expect an equitable recovery without addressing the lack of child care, home- and community-based services and paid leave that pushed millions of women out of the workforce and devastated their families' financial security. Individuals, corporations, philanthropies and "the market" cannot solve this crisis. We need significant investment, especially at the federal level, to build an economy that works for all of us. Right now, we should be worried about spending too little, not too much.