While infrastructure improvements are important for all, they don’t address the increased inequality in the pandemic economy, labor economists told Fintech Zoom Business.
Everyone uses roads, drinks water and has challenges finding housing, which the infrastructure plan promises to address, said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Center. But where is the targeted investment in America’s women?
However, the stimulus could go much further, said labor economist Michelle Holder. What’s missing is a recognition of gender inequities within industries as well as how women were disparately affected during the pandemic.
Aspects of the plan are laudable, said Holder, noting the $100 billion earmarked for workforce development in low-income communities in addition to funding for child care facilities and elder care.
One potential solution, she said would be to allocate 5% to 10% of the $621 billion proposed for transportation infrastructure and $300 billion earmarked for manufacturing to train women in the jobs being created in those respective fields.
“Let’s make sure women, as 50% of the workforce, get 50% of those jobs,” she said.
The White House is expected to follow up the infrastructure bill with a separate package focusing on the “care economy” in the coming weeks, which could be a game changer for some women. They account for a disproportionate amount of employees in the care sector and still shoulder much of the care responsibilities at home, as the pandemic showed.
Investing in the infrastructure of care would help overall economic activity, but it would also be a lengthy endeavor, said Kate Bahn, economist and director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. The improvements won’t happen by the snap of a finger.
“This is why it needs to be paired with other economic safety net policies,” such as paid family leave, paid sick leave and flexible scheduling, Bahn said, noting those and other efforts would help parents — especially those forced out of the workforce during the pandemic — to participate again in the labor market.
Help for those who can’t work
The infrastructure stimulus combined with various safety net measures could be beneficial in countering the she-cession, say women left unemployed or underemployed by the pandemic.
In the Bay Area, Kristen Campos has been unemployed since March 13, 2020. Until schools are back open and she can secure child care, she can’t start work.
And without work, Campos can’t pay for childcare for her now four-year-old son. She’s hopeful the American Jobs Plan can help address those concerns and perhaps create a path back for her into the workforce.
Campos, 32, had built a career in the hospitality industry, which was decimated during the pandemic. She started as a cook and worked her way to a management position that allowed her to be home more for her kids, just before the pandemic started. It didn’t last.
“I am more than willing to change career paths, if there is an affordable option for me to do so and I will receive a livable wage at the end of my training,” she told Fintech Zoom Business. “I can dedicate the time if my children are in safe hands while I do that. I would be unable to pay for childcare and my training while waiting to start a new job with no income.”
She added: “I think there is enormous potential, and I hope that it actually helps.”
Carol Armen, a 57-year-old single mother in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, has experienced a precipitous drop-off in how much she’s able to work during the pandemic.
Armen, a freelance legal writer who’s in the process of getting her law license back to active status, has needed to dedicate more hours to helping her 6-year-old son with special needs prepare for and attend remote classes. The shift from in-person schooling has been hard on her son, and it’s been difficult for him to engage online without assistance.
Federal economic stimulus efforts such as the infrastructure plan should include dedicated funding for special needs education, she said.
“Throughout the pandemic, and in fact any time anyone speaks of education, they ignore kids with special needs,” said Armen. “For instance, universal day care will do nothing for those kids.”
–Tami Luhby contributed to this story.