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Biden’s plan for caregivers: What you should know, according to experts

Biden’s plan for caregivers: What you should know, according to experts

Last November, Democratic presidential primary candidates finally tackled a question on the child care crisis. Nearly a year later, with the crisis exacerbated by a pandemic and recession, President-elect Joe Biden has made the issue a key part of his economic recovery plan, offering proposals that would “create a 21st century caregiving and education workforce.” Upon announcing the plan in July, Biden said, “If we truly want to reward work in this country, we have to ease the financial burden of care that families are carrying. And we have to elevate the compensation, benefits and dignity of caregiving workers and early childhood educators.”

Ai-jen Poo, senior advisor for Care in Action, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to fighting for dignity and fairness for domestic workers, says the significance of the plan is “tremendous.” “It’s the first time I’ve seen a presidential campaign make supporting and investing in the care economy a core strategy of their economic agenda,” she says. “Within the plan, the concerns of caregivers are front and center. It really does talk about transforming the caregiving workforce into a strong 21st century workforce with living wages, benefits, training and support.” 

Here’s what you need to know about President-elect Biden’s key proposals for caregivers and other specifics, according to Poo and other experts.

Increased pay 

Caregivers and child care workers earn on average less than $12 an hour and $25,000 annually, points out the Biden campaign, asserting that “this low pay contributes to extremely high rates of turnover in the care workforce, which hurts these workers and those for whom they care.” (It bears noting that according to a recent survey of Care.com members, nannies of one infant child made a national average of $14.13 an hour in 2019.) 

Better pay will make for an even stronger caregiving workforce, says Taryn Morrissey, who studies child and family policies at American University. “These are people who are caring for the youngest, most impressionable citizens, our children, so we want to attract a trained, skilled workforce, which is hard when compensation is so low,” she explains.

To that end, the Biden plan would set pay standards, in an effort to ensure caregivers and early childhood educators “get the pay they deserve.”

Benefits

As a professional caregiver, an extensive benefits package isn’t something that is currently provided by federal law. “Caregivers should have access to health insurance, paid time off and sick days so that they can take the rest and recuperation time they need and arrive to work healthy and happy,” says Davis. “Employers in other sectors understand this so clearly. For some reason, it seems so often overlooked in the child care sector.” 

That’s why President-elect Biden is proposing that caregivers receive “affordable health care through their jobs or Biden’s new public option, federally provided paid family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks, up to 7 days of paid sick leave and affordable child care for their own children.”

Stronger legal protections

Roughly a quarter of states have collective bargaining rights for family child care workers, but only six have agreements: Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Connecticut and Illinois, according to the National Women’s Law Center. But changes are afoot. Consider the fact that in California, more than 40,000 child care providers were granted collective bargaining rights last year, reports Vox. President-elect Biden aims to build on this by ensuring that caregivers are given “an effective, meaningful way to unionize and collectively bargain, whether they work in a center- or home-based setting.” 

The ability to collectively bargain and/or form a union could benefit workers by helping to increase their wages or provide avenues for training, which will improve the overall quality of the caregiving workforce.

Training and career ladders

President-elect Biden plans to expand opportunities for caregivers to “earn needed credentials by investing in high-quality training and education programs that lead to a certificate, as well as ongoing, job-embedded training and professional development through programs like labor-management training and registered apprenticeships.” 

This is key because although you might invest in your career by taking an early childhood education program or earning your certification as a newborn care specialist, investing in these classes is often a gamble, says Davis. ”Unless you find a family who is familiar with the methodology you’ve studied and excited to implement it in their home, you will likely not see an increase in pay,” she notes. “There’s no space in our current system for a child care worker to take time off to attend a course, much less pay for it.” 

The plan’s cost

The president-elect’s overall caregiving proposal will cost $775 billion over 10 years. Aside from the investment in caregivers, it also includes steps to make the cost of child care affordable and accessible for working families. Additionally, the plan makes it easier for aging relatives and loved ones with disabilities to have quality, affordable home- or community-based care. It will be paid for by rolling back tax breaks for real estate investors with incomes over $400,000 and taking steps to increase tax compliance for high-income earners.

Key critiques

The Biden plan leaves room for the following additions or concerns.

Unionization could deter family employers. While proposal says unionization would allow caregivers to bargain for better pay and working conditions, organization could be unexpectedly challenging or lead to unintended drawbacks. 

“It would be nearly impossible for families to hire nannies if they unionized and had mandated breaks,” explains Davis. “It’s not possible for a nanny to take a break when working unless one of the parents is home, so having a nanny suddenly becomes impossible to do legally for a dual-working household. Unions are fantastic resources for a lot of industries, but it’s hard for me to imagine them logistically being possible in the world of private homes.”

The plan doesn’t go far enough. “Our caregiving system is just not equipped to support the care that we need for families,” notes Poo. Beyond the plan President-elect Biden outlines for 2021 and beyond, she says, “I’m hoping what we get to is universal access to child care, long-term supports and services, paid family leave and all care jobs becoming jobs you can take pride in and support your family on and in which one generation can do better than the next.” 

The plan comes with a hefty price tag. At a time when national debt is ballooning and the U.S. is contending with a large budget deficit, the plan’s cost is steep. 

Why it’s ultimately worth the investment 

Caregivers are the people who allow parents to build their careers, points out Davis. “Caregiving jobs are easily among the most important jobs that exist in the United States, yet caregivers are so vulnerable to being undervalued, undercompensated, overworked and mistreated,” she says.

It also bears noting that Black and brown women and immigrant women of color, who make up a large part of this workforce, have always been disproportionately vulnerable, points out Poo. 

In addition to righting those wrongs, the Biden plan frames caregiving work as fuel for the economy and integral to our country’s infrastructure. “Our caregiving systems have never been fully seen as infrastructure in the way that transportation systems are, but they really are,” says Poo. “When you make care jobs better jobs, it’s not just going to benefit those workers and their families. These are job-enabling jobs.” 

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