More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the disparate impacts of the disease are still playing out. People of color are more likely to get sick, more likely to die, more likely to lose their jobs, more likely to lose their homes, and suffer food insecurity. With effective vaccines now available all over the country, it's communities of color that are least able to access vaccine sites. And while much of the nation is coming out of the worst of the economic downturn from the pandemic, Black and brown workers are not experiencing that rebound.
In fact, Black unemployment ticked up in February by 0.7%, while employment is starting to rebound for other groups. White, Asian, and Hispanic workers have recovered about two-thirds of their initial job losses in the pandemic. Black workers have recovered a little more than half. President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are working to fix that. "We'e trying to make sure that it is not like so many other recoveries," House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told Politico. The South Carolina Democrat is a close adviser of Biden, the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress, and chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. "Slow for everybody, and a snail's pace for Black and brown communities." That's the basis upon which policymakers are building the next stimulus plan, all lumped into the shorthand "infrastructure" package.
Equity is underlying all parts of the infrastructure plan currently in the works, from transportation to economic and educational opportunities. The approach addresses climate change, and how it too disproportionately impacts communities of color. So for Biden and Democrats in Congress, "infrastructure" isn't just roads and rails.
"You have to look at his words from the campaign and where he's positioned this," John D. Podesta, a former top adviser to Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton told The New York Times. "He said in order to build the economy back better, we need to tackle the interlocking nature of the Covid crisis, the climate crisis and the racial justice crisis. I think that's what they intend to do with this package." That includes good, well-paid jobs and job training for the projects rebuilding roads and bridges and public transit and rail systems and ports and power grids and water systems. It would create a universal broadband system to get the whole nation online at high speeds and create the workforce to not just build all that, but maintain it. It would create one million new, green affordable housing units for low-income Americans and fund local transportation projects to connect people who don't have cars to they places they need to go.
The plan developed by the Biden campaign, the foundation of what he's expected to release in the next few weeks, would direct funds to communities of color and the most polluted places. It would spend $100 billion in building or renovating schools, child care facilities, and community colleges, with Biden's priority of "modernizing schools in the most economically underserved communities in our nation—all too often in Black and Brown communities." Those are the communities that will get a substantial share of the funding for rebuilding the country's power systems, putting clean energy into communities that have more than their share of air pollution. Biden promised to clean up and redevelop "abandoned and underused" like "old power plants and industrial facilities, landfills, abandoned mines and other idle community assets that will be transformed into new economic hubs for communities all across America."
Couple all that with the second chunk of the bill, the social infrastructure to provide support especially for families, and there's an opportunity for this package to be truly transformative. National paid leave, universal pre-kindergarten, expanded child allowance payments, child care support, free community college tuition are all components Biden intends to include to help the group that is having the hardest economic time coming out of the pandemic—Black and brown women.
So of course Republicans hate it and are already lining up in opposition to it, however lawmakers decide to get it through the Senate. It's going to have to be either by reconciliation or by nuking the filibuster, if that hasn't been done already for a new civil and voting rights push.
Here's the thing though, all of this is going to be hugely popular, just like the American Rescue Plan was. Democrats need to go into this fight with the level of urgency and confidence that they took into the COVID-19 relief. Climate, income inequality, long-standing racial inequality—all of that comprises the long-term slow-burning epidemic that's threatening the nation, albeit at a slower pace than COVID19. A plan to get us out of that, that looks to a future where people don't have to struggle and fight just to exist, to get an education, to train for and land a family wage job, a plan like that is going to be popular. Let the Republicans decide to fight that, to be on the wrong side of history again. Democrats need to go into this knowing that they can do it without Republicans, and proceed apace.