The Green New Deal: creating the care infrastructure for a just transition

Opinion blog post from Rachel Slocum, co-facilitator of our Green New Deal Team

Life after a Green New Deal would be a world of free healthcare and childcare, cheap and beautiful public housing, first-class public transport infrastructure, well-funded arts programs and ample leisure time.” Clare Hymer, Novara Media

The Green New Deal: creating the care infrastructure for a just transition

What do Medicare for All, universal child care, child care subsidies for low income households (HB 2348) and paid family and medical leave (HB 2005-3) have to do with climate policy? They represent parts of the ‘care infrastructure’ we need to allow people to live with dignity now, survive climate change tomorrow, and fully decarbonize our society over the next ten years.

As the Pacific NW climate movement takes aim at fossil fuel projects, many advocate a just transition for workers who would no longer build LNG plants and pipelines, but instead would install solar panels or build high speed rail lines. But being able to build green infrastructure requires a scaffold of care: someone to take care of the kids while you’re at work, the time off you need to help your father, health care you can afford.

That scaffold is largely missing in the US. Among OECD countries, the US is second to last, just ahead of Turkey, in public spending specifically aimed to benefit families and children. Consequently, in the US, the net child care costs of a couple earning minimum wage amount to 65% of household income. For a lone parent, it’s much worse.  

In the home, US women do the majority of care giving and housekeeping tasks. With paid labor, household labor, and emotional labor, women do a triple shift. Across society, the absence of a care infrastructure weighs disproportionately on women, indigenous, Black, and people of color.  Indeed, the failure to dedicate spending toward family benefits in this country sends younger, lower income households with children toward poverty.

In our economy, characterized by wage stagnation, contract work, and privatized basic needs (housing, internet, health care, transportation), it’s difficult to cover necessities, let alone child care. This is particularly true if you’re not a dual-income household. In Harney County, the monthly cost of child care for two kids is about $1,123 – far beyond the ability of a full time minimum wage worker to afford.

If your income earning potential is higher than the cost of child care, it makes sense to pay for care, assuming its available.  But that option exists in part because many child care jobs, filled disproportionately by women of color, are low paid. Child care workers in all states earn less than two-thirds of the median wage for all occupations – on average about $10.72/hour. The need for universal, public, 24/7 child care and living wages for child care workers is clear. Attention to the struggles of households in need of child care as well as to the circumstances of workers who undertake this care should be a part of broad demand for decarbonization with social protection.

We are facing threats to life. Under the neoliberal experiment of the past forty years, public goods have been cut and privatized. The outcome of austerity and the privatization of public needs has been to push the burden of care onto families and particularly women. The ability to provide life sustaining needs requires either family wealth or indebtedness. And if that weren’t enough, the changes necessary to extricate society from fossil fuel consumption, coupled with the impacts of climate change on our lives, will be enormously disruptive.

Recognizing these threats and vulnerabilities, the Sunrise-AOC Green New Deal makes the case that increasing federal, socially supportive spending is climate policy. Public goods benefit the 99%, particularly those whose life chances are threatened by racism, class inequality, and patriarchy. Last Sunday, guests at the Sunrise PDX Town Hall echoed this idea.  (Re)building our care infrastructure would include well paid, universal child care as well as Medicare for All, universally excellent K-12 education, free higher education, a jobs guarantee, and a well-funded public sector, among other measures. These are climate policies with broad appeal.

As groups mobilize in support of the Sunrise/AOC Green New Deal, 350PDX is working with the Oregon Just Transition Alliance to create an Oregon Green New Deal coalition that, we hope, will include the organizations supporting HB 2348 (child care subsidies for low income households) and HB 2005-3 (paid family and medical leave).  You can show them that the climate justice movement is behind these policies at the links above.

See blog post with references included here.

— Rachel Slocum, June 18, 2019