“Care is Infrastructure, Silly”: Feminists Defend Caregiving Funding in Biden’s Jobs Plan

Just a few weeks after President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and his proposed American Jobs Plan demonstrated his commitment to prioritizing care work in the quest towards economic recovery, the idea of investing in the country’s caregiving infrastructure and work force is being ridiculed and dismissed.

We expected it from Senate Republicans who to a person, are opposed to both of the president’s plans—but we were a little surprised to see a POLITICO Playbook article characterize the proposed investments in care workers as “certainly a laudable goal, but it’s silly to call it infrastructure and no previous politician who put forward a similar caregiving proposal has done so under the guise of infrastructure spending.”

Feminists React: #WhatsSilly

Feminists immediately took to Twitter to push back on the assertion that care workers shouldn’t be included in the American Jobs Plan. Using the hashtag #WhatsSilly to respond to the Politico article, they pointed out that the work of caregivers is what allows our economy to function normally, even though their work is too often devalued and underpaid. 

Tina Tchen, president and CEO of Time’s Up criticized the article, saying “#WhatsSilly is not recognizing that investing in a robust public care infrastructure is essential to economic recovery. #carecantwait

Time’s Up was also vocal about how the article is dismissive of the very real categiving burdens women face.

Lenore M. Palladino, a professor at UMass Amherst, and Rakeen Mabud from the Time’s Up Foundation wrote:

“The COVID-19 crisis has taken an enormous toll on women in the United States, and exposed the extent to which women’s labor—paid and unpaid—is the unacknowledged backbone of our collective economic health. Women, especially Black and Latinx women, have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic, putting their lives at risk to serve their communities. At the same time, women are concentrated in the sectors that saw and continue to experience the biggest job losses all while increasing care needs—from childcare to eldercare—have squeezed women from all sides.

“Building a robust care infrastructure is good for women and a cornerstone of a resilient and sustainable economy. [It] will shore up recovery efforts by creating millions of jobs for the disproportionate number of women, especially women of color, hit by this crisis and by allowing unpaid caregivers to return to the labor force.”

Care Work Is Infrastructure

Other feminists pointed out that the Politico argument is inherently flawed—because care work *is* infrastructure. 

Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, wrote “Care is infrastructure & care work makes all other work possible. … Guys: The Webster definition of infrastructure: a system of public works of a country, state or region. Also: the resources (such as personnel, buildings or equipment) required for an activity. Care is infrastructure, silly.”

In a statement, Poo also added:

“We absolutely do need to update our understanding of infrastructure. Infrastructure at its core is that which enables commerce and economic activity. What could be more fundamental than care giving services? If you think about it—even the people who are building bridges and tunnels need care—for their kids, for their aging parents.”

Intersectional Awareness of Caregiving Needs

The American Jobs Plan devotes $621 billion to transportation infrastructure, $650 billion to home infrastructure like clean water and sustainable housing, and $580 billion towards research, manufacturing and small business. But—as is too often the case—the “controversial” funding is the provision that will help women recover from the disproportionate harm they faced during the pandemic: $400 billion towards “substantial investments in the infrastructure of our care economy, starting by creating new and better jobs for caregiving workers,” according to the White House. 

It’s no secret that care workers—who are disproportionately women of color and low-income women—have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic. In child care alone,  56 percent of child care programs are losing money every day, and 350,000 child care workers lost their jobs in a single month at the beginning of the pandemic. Half of those jobs have not yet returned.

Devaluing care work reveals the many gendered, racialized and ableist assumptions baked into the U.S. economic system. As many activists pointed out, dismissing the importance of care work also devalues the lives of the elderly, children, the disabled community and domestic workers.


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Jeanette Dill explained on Twitter:

“The Biden infrastructure plan includes $400 billion to expand home care for disabled and older adults, as well as increase pay and benefits for these essential workers. The investment in the care infrastructure in the US is desperately needed, both for our aging population, but also for the women who provide these critical services.

“Yesterday, @POLITICO Playbook said that it is “silly” to call investment in home care services “infrastructure,” suggesting that care isn’t infrastructure because it doesn’t involve pouring concrete.

@politico reflects gendered and racialized assumptions about what type of work is infrastructure work – and who deserves investment. The women who perform care work, disproportionately women of color who earn poverty wages, don’t fit the picture of men in hard hats.

“The fastest growing jobs in today’s economy are part of the carework infrastructure in the US. These women deserve investment and high quality jobs, just like the men who will be pouring concrete and doing construction.”

Eric Michael Garcia added:

“Maybe if @playbookdc spent more time quoting disabled people who have lost their friends in nursing homes instead of quoting a white supremacist like Stephen Miller, they wouldn’t say it’s “silly” to call spending on HCBS infrastructure spending.

“You can only conjure a disgraceful quote like this when you only care about politics through the lens of the powerful. Disabled people don’t have as much political capital as Politico’s sources, so spending money to keep them from dying is considered ‘silly’.”

And the Domestic Workers Alliance explained, “Caregivers, both paid and unpaid, have always been undervalued. It doesn’t have to stay that way. That starts by acknowledging that undervaluing care is everyone’s problem.”

It’s never been more clear that caregiving work is real work, with unique burdens and challenges. Now is the time to push for policies that support care workers. The American Jobs Plan provides a path forwards to help mitigate the harms COVID-19 has caused. And if care workers can recover, so will the millions of people whose careers, child care or family structure rely on some form of care work.

As President Biden himself explained, “It’s kind of interesting that when the Republicans put forward an infrastructure plan, they thought everything from broadband to dealing with other things [was infrastructure]. Now they’re saying that only a small portion of what I’m talking about is infrastructure. So it’s interesting how their definition has changed but they know we need it.”

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About

Katie Fleischer is a recent graduate of Smith College and a Ms. editorial assistant working on the Front and Center series.