What is the infrastructure? It’s a matter of gender, to begin with

A recent tweet New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand – with her reams of sneaky answers – is currently summing up a key infrastructure divide in Washington.

“Paid leave is an infrastructure. Child care is an infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure, ”she wrote.

This sparked a wave of backlash, especially from conservatives – writer Christina Sommers posted a photo of (presumably) his dog and the words “Izzy is an infrastructure”. “Ranch dressing is the infrastructure, ”joked the Daily thread. And so on.

Spoiler: Washington will not reach a consensus on what “infrastructure” means. But Gillibrand’s tweet touches on a different side of that conversation: this infrastructure is all about gender. And this idea is particularly important as the president presents his plan as a balm for the pandemic-plagued economy in which women, especially women of color, have been left further behind.

Past jobs in infrastructure were men’s jobs

America’s $ 2 trillion jobs plan includes more than $ 600 billion that would go to things that have often been touted as infrastructure, like roads and bridges, but it also includes money for them. care for the elderly and modernization of day care centers.

And there has been a gender imbalance in these infrastructure jobs.

“If we were to look at the traditional definition of infrastructure, which includes construction and production jobs and some installation and repair jobs, these tend to be traditionally male,” said Nicole Smith, a business economist. chief at the Center on Education and the Workforce in Georgetown.

In fact, around 9 out of 10 “traditional” infrastructure jobs are traditionally assigned to men, according to a recent report that Smith co-wrote.

Biden’s plan somewhat compensates for this, for example with spending on the care economy.

Smith applauded these moves: “By doing this, by including these domestic concerns in the bill, we might actually have the ability to reach out to women much more than in the past.

But so far, Biden has only released the first part. He has yet to unveil the U.S. Plan for Families, which is expected to focus more on the care economy, including child care and education.

According to a rough estimate by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, jobs in the US employment plan would be split 60% to 40% in favor of men.

He estimates that the American plan for families, still unpublished, would be 60-40 in favor of women, reversing the imbalance. This would in effect both create jobs for women and attract more women into the labor market, potentially giving them more childcare services.

But the two-part structure, along with the labels on the plan, worries California Democratic Representative Katie Porter.

Like many American women, Porter’s family and work life are bleeding together these days, which caused a problem when she tried to explain her concerns to NPR.

“Hang on a second,” she said, turning away to scream at the commotion caused by the teenager going on nearby. “People! I’ll take you to lunch, but you have to wait 10 minutes “- followed by more commotion.

“Let me tell you about the need for child care in this country,” Porter added.

The juxtaposition of “child care” and “infrastructure” has become a major part of the political debate since Biden presented his agenda.

“I think the ‘jobs’ and then ‘family’ division suggests that these things are in tension when in fact, if we are to have a strong and stable economy, we have to make sure families can go to work,” Porter said.

She will ensure that issues such as child care are no lower priority than traditional infrastructure, and Porter stressed that it will be Congress that will have the final say on how the plans are broken down.

In response, a Biden administration official told NPR, “The order in which the president arranges his deployment does not reflect the relative value he places on each policy.”

But then again, there is care-focused spending in the infrastructure-focused jobs plan. And that has been a big part of the debate about what “infrastructure” really means – and to what extent it includes “family”-centered policies.

This debate continues long before Biden released his plan. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, made the idea of ​​child care as infrastructure the centerpiece of his speech to the DNC last august.

The whole conversation mirrors an ongoing conversation among progressive Democrats about inequalities and structural biases. This is at the heart of Porter’s point of view.

“Why is that word, ‘infrastructure’, seen to have some kind of political magic?” she said. “And I think when you look behind that you start to realize that what ‘infrastructure’ has traditionally often been used as is as a code for ‘jobs for men’. “

Meanwhile, some Republicans have criticized the administration for curtailing spending on elderly care and childcare under the auspices of infrastructure.

“I thought it was interesting, this whole concept, ‘Well we need healthcare infrastructure too,’” said Republican Senator Roy Blunt told Fox News’ Chris Wallace recently. “Democrats understand that infrastructure is something that we need and that is popular.”

These labels matter politically, says Republican strategist Alex Conant.

“A lot of this is a great branding exercise,” he said. “And if Biden can convince the American people that this is in fact an infrastructure bill, his chances of passing are much higher simply because voters overwhelmingly support spending more money on them. infrastructure. “

It is a debate that will not go away any time soon; the American plan for families is expected in the coming weeks. The White House has also indicated that it will continue bipartisan negotiations on its plans until Memorial Day.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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