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Child care worker Debbie James-Dean uses a feather duster to tickle Aubrey Albritton, 16 months, as she goes over the color green during an activity at a Kids Are Us Learning Center in Southeast Washington, D.C., on Friday, March 24, 2017. James-Dean has been working in the field for nearly 20 years and earns $12.75 an hour. (Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

With Sweeping $775 Billion Investment in Child and Elder Care, Biden Goes Big to End 'Caregiving Crisis'

"If we truly want to reward work in this country, we have to ease the financial burden of care that families are carrying," the presumptive Democratic nominee said. 

Julia Conley

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday won praise from progressives when he unveiled the third portion of his "Build Back Better" economic program, focused on investing in caregiving for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. 

The 10-year, $775 billion investment would create three million jobs in the caregiving sectors and free up millions of Americans for employment after being tied to childcare or caring for family members, according to the Biden campaign. The plan would be funded by ending "unproductive and unequal" tax breaks for rich real estate investors and increasing tax compliance for the wealthy. 

Outlining his proposal in a speech in New Castle, Delaware, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said that people who care for the most vulnerable Americans have been "underpaid, unseen, and undervalued" for too long—while those who need help to take care of their children and other family members are strained by the cost of the services.

"If we truly want to reward work in this country, we have to ease the financial burden of care that families are carrying," Biden said. "We have to elevate the compensation for people providing that care, the benefits and dignity of caregiving workers and early childhood educators. Even before the pandemic, millions of working families were faced with enormous financial and personal strain trying to raise their kids and care for their parents or loved ones with disabilities."

Under the proposal, Biden would provide a bailout to child care centers, which are currently at the center of what the former vice president called the nation's "caregiving crisis." As Common Dreams reported in June, economists have called for a $50 billion investment in the industry, in which many centers are in danger of closing for good following the loss of tuition, often their primary or sole source of income, during the pandemic.

"The way to boost labor supply in an effective and humane way is not to make the safety net as stingy as possible, but instead to make public investments that broaden the range of opportunity available for working-age adults."
—Josh Bivens, EPI

Included in the aid for the child care industry would be increased pay, benefits, training, and the ability to unionize for child care workers, who earn, on average, less than $30,000 per year.  The plan would also provide funding to eliminate "child care deserts" by constructing new centers in rural areas. 

Republicans in Congress have blocked Democrats' efforts during the pandemic to stabilize the child care industry while also rejecting proposals to guarantee parents paid leave in order to lessen families' need for child care. 

Biden said the investment would include universal pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year-old children, a proposal which would begin to close the gap between the U.S. and every other wealthy country in the world, where universal child care programs exist. The program would lay "a strong foundation for children and [save] parents thousands of dollars a year on child care costs," Biden wrote in a Medium post Tuesday. 

Borrowing from Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) Social Security expansion plan, which she released last year while running in the Democratic primary, Biden included in his proposal Social Security credits for those who provide unpaid labor by caring for family members, as well as a $5,000 tax credit.

Warren, who is reportedly on Biden's vice presidential nominee short-list, applauded the proposal in an interview on MSNBC.

"If you want millions of parents to be able to go to work then they're going to need child care and that's what Joe Biden understands," the senator said. "He understands that the economy works when we invest in families. His plan is both economically sound and meets people where they are at a human level."

At the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Josh Bivens wrote that Biden's "ambitious" investment in caregiving is "most welcome."

The plan "would greatly expand the opportunities for working-age adults to seek paid employment," as well as leading to more productivity in the workplace and income gains and making strides to ensure "a decent and dignified retirement" for all, Bivens wrote. 

Bivens noted that the Biden proposal answers EPI's earlier call, in 2016, for "an ambitious national investment in America's children" in order to close the gap between the United States' record on women's workforce participation and that of other wealthy countries. 

"In 1990, for example, women's prime-age labor force participation in the United States ranked 7th of 24 among the advanced economies with available data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)," Bivens wrote on Tuesday. "By 2000, the United States had slipped to 16th of 35 OECD countries, while in 2019 our ranking was 30th of 35."

Entirely closing the gap would create five million jobs in the U.S., EPI estimated in 2016, and Biden's plan would bring the country more than halfway to that goal. 

Bivens denounced the Republican Party's plan to end the $600 per week unemployment bonus that was passed as part of the CARES Act, one that the party claims is aimed at "spurring labor supply." 

"Their stated concerns about the labor supply effects of these UI enhancements should not be taken seriously," Bivens wrote, "The way to boost labor supply in an effective and humane way is not to make the safety net as stingy as possible, but instead to make public investments that broaden the range of opportunity available for working-age adults."

For families which provide nearly 34 billion hours of unpaid work caring for elderly relatives each year, Biden's investment would allow "a nontrivial fraction of this work to be performed by professional care workers" and "would open up opportunities for these family members to search for jobs themselves," Bivens added. 

Jamaal Bowman, a progressive who won the Democratic primary in New York's 16th congressional district against Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) last month, praised Biden's plan as a "real investment in jobs, wages, child care and long-term care."

"Investments in early education are invaluable for our communities, our economy, and our kids' futures," tweeted Save the Children Action Network. "We thank Joe Biden for sharing his plans on how he would invest in kids."

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