The Crisis of Human Infrastructure in the Care Economy

President Biden’s roughly $2 trillion infrastructure plan has been widely praised for attempting to improve the United States’ infrastructure. The plan has given many Americans an opportunity to dream and envision a future when the United States’ infrastructure problems are at an end. One aspect that has not received as much attention in the discussions around the plan has been the importance of the care economy in the nation’s infrastructure. In this article, we discuss a piece that appeared in the Seattle Times that argued that infrastructure must include the care economy. 

The piece, written by Rebekah Entralgo, starts off with Entralgo recalling how her mother was hired to work as a home-health aide to a young disabled boy. Despite the joy that her work brought, the job paid a low wage and did not come with any benefits. Her mother overlooked this because of how meaningful her work was and the pleasure she derived from helping this boy. Yet, this did not alter the fact that her mother struggled to take care of her two children. In the end, economic reality trumped the joys of her work, and after a year, her mother had to quit her job. 

In discussing her mother’s experience as a home-health aide, she seeks to make a broader point about the care industry and America as a whole. Because her pay was low, the boy was deprived of a carer. Indeed, one of the boy’s parents had to get more time off work in order to be the boy’s carer.

According to Entralgo, the American Jobs Plan should be about more than physical infrastructure. A lot of focus has been placed on the deteriorating state of America’s roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure. The infrastructure plan seeks to invest $400 billion for the expansion of home and community-based care for elderly and disabled people. This has been rightly praised as a way to ensure that there is greater access to affordable, quality care and that carers earn a good living wage. 

Data indicates that healthcare will be the fastest growing segment of the economy, in terms of job growth. Its economic importance is clear. Ageing baby boomers will drive demand for access to better care over the coming years. By 2024, the United States will have added 1.6 million jobs in the adult care segment. The demand is there and it is massive. Yet, home-care workers earn around $16,200 a year. A sixth of home-care workers live below the poverty line.

The country needs to start thinking about the importance of our human infrastructure. In as much as roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure can only be built if there are good jobs available, we need good jobs in the care economy in order to meet the challenges of an ageing populace. We cannot offer low wages with low hours and expect that carers will not suffer from burnout, and even leave their jobs. The present situation is unsustainable. More needs to be done to ensure that there is access to the kind of affordable, quality health care offered by places like Skylark adult day care. Otherwise, we risk an even bigger crisis.