Democratic Rep. Alma Adams represents North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District, which includes Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter: @RepAdams.

Infrastructure keeps our economy moving. Roads, tracks, and ports enable products to move across the country. Broadband keeps our workforce productive, even during a pandemic. Brick and mortar schools and universities teach job skills and enrich lives with culture. Airplanes facilitate travel for jobs that absolutely must be done in person, and our electrical grid powers almost every facet of our home and work lives.

It’s safe to say that infrastructure is what makes a global economy possible. So why can’t we perceive the care economy the same way?

Women especially have been forced to drop out of the labor market due to COVID-19, but for many families, a woman’s income is the only source of income. My mother cleaned houses so we could survive and get by, but we just got by. Like many mothers, she had to work even during the most important times in my childhood.

With my mother’s savings, I was able to attend college, so I grew up knowing how much parents sacrifice for the ones they love.

Now, in the wake of a world-changing pandemic, parents and caregivers cannot or will not go back to work unless their children, parents and loved ones are cared for. It is past time for America to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of the care economy.

As any young parents know, the state of childcare in our country is in crisis. Nationally, as childcare continues to become more expensive, the median wages for childcare workers remain below the poverty line. By the end of last year, 25% of childcare programs had closed, taking away millions of seats for children and making the competition for the remaining seats even more contentious – and expensive.

In my home state of North Carolina, median wages for the complicated jobs of childcare workers and preschool teachers are under $13 an hour – also below the poverty line.

The Tar Heel State has only 1 member of the early childhood teaching workforce for every 20 of the 735,000 children ages 0-5, and that disparity will only grow if we allow childcare providers to close permanently.

This is one of the many reasons I voted for the $39 billion in emergency childcare funding in the American Rescue Plan. Many early childhood educators and childcare providers were able to keep their doors open due to this emergency support, but that funding isn’t permanent, and the crisis persists even as the economy recovers.

Make no mistake: by building our care infrastructure and rescuing the care economy, we will enable parents and caregivers – a group that’s predominately women – to reenter the workforce and help the entire economy recover. Congress needs to pass a jobs plan and a families plan to help make this happen.

Additionally, it is vital that workers have access to paid leave, and not only during a public health emergency. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee its workers some form of paid leave provisions. According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress, working families who lack access to paid family and medical leave endure about $21 billion in lost wages that could otherwise be spent on housing, child-care, food, education, or other everyday items. When Americans do not have access to paid leave, it hurts working families, it worsens the wealth gap for women, exacerbates racial inequality, and affects small businesses who primarily rely on consumer spending.

Though some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have taken issue with defining the care economy as infrastructure, it’s a popular proposal. Supporting the care economy is a bipartisan issue with 61% of likely voterssupporting that aspect of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee famously mocked the President’s proposal to invest $400 billion into elder care even though recent polling shows 63% of Trump voters support such an investment.

Whether or not you consider care economy investments “infrastructure” doesn’t change the urgency of the needs. COVID-19 continues to challenge our families and small businesses, so it’s not the time to tell a household’s breadwinners to pick between their family and their future. Let’s pass the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan so that our family members and caregivers who give everything to us can create a bright future as well.

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