A Different Kind of Infrastructure

US President Biden has passed his 1.2 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, a bipartisan victory. The bill’s key elements are revamping US roads, bridges, public transit, airports, broadband internet access, and more. Rumors about a congressional “human infrastructure bill” sit in waiting like an ‘iCloud file’, hidden from plain sight to be accessed at a later date. Part of the ‘file’ that deserves closer examination is the US human workforce. No one understands fully what’s going to happen regarding labor and employment rates. President Biden’s October Town Hall in Philadelphia suggested that increased wages draw employees back to work, but some American workers are just “down” about Covid-19 related experiences over the past two years. I believe the labor issue requires a more comprehensive analysis. The “human infrastructure” bill is likely not accounting for the fact that some people are never coming back to work.

Post-pandemic, many people fall into different buckets of “lifestyle change” that dictate whether they will or will not return to work. During the pandemic, many made significant changes to stay afloat financially. Some moved to less expensive areas in the suburbs. Others who maintained two residences (city and suburbia) chose suburbia and sold their city residence. Still, others stayed put, especially those who could work from home. With the closing of public dining, spas, salons, department stores, and gyms, expenditures were reduced enough for some to save money during the pandemic.

The lifestyle change groups also include those who got used to not working or not working so hard. Americans realized what the Europeans know about work-life balance; multiple successive weeks off work feels right and is good for the whole family. In turn, American employers experienced a boost in productivity from employees who worked from home during the pandemic. Lastly, some workers changed their lifestyle by taking early retirement or starting a small business.

So what does this mean? A critical analysis of the economic aspects of the pandemic reveals the capitalistic drive that pushes Americans to the brink of exhaustion. Working 60 hours per week does not prove how important you are, it’s unhealthy and unproductive. The ideology of giving birth and returning to work quickly does not show how strong you are, it’s unnatural. The new way forward is working fewer hours as an entrepreneur with a small clientele. Household income may decrease, but the quality of life is increased.

The “human infrastructure” bill must support the New Frontier of capitalism, i.e., the American Dream sans white-collar job. For example, it must include:

  1. Policies that support streamlined licensing for in-home daycare with under ten children.

  2. Simple licenses for chefs to open “shared kitchens” where other chefs can cook and serve their small clientele.

  3. Licensing and promotion of training for elder care in exchange for tax credits or free college tuition.

  4. Tax incentives for existing businesses to enable them to pay higher wages to employees.

If we neglect to address what society is showing us, it may result in a negative latent economic impact where businesses continue to close down instead of scale-up. People are already experiencing slow service at restaurants due to a lack of employees and shortages in goods and services. New homeowners find themselves waiting 14-16 weeks to receive furniture orders. These issues are prevalent in big cities, small towns, wealthy areas, and poor areas, where the norm is to see ‘help wanted’ signs.

On the one hand, if the “human infrastructure bill” does not lay a path to the American Dream in the New Frontier, it will fail to fortify the country’s foundation. The opportunity to foster equitable financial inclusion will be lost, as will our nation’s social and economic stability. On the other hand, comprehensive policies in human infrastructure could catapult the country into a new league of global leadership, fertilizing a new crop of small entrepreneurs who demonstrate that capitalism still works and democracy still wins.

The truth is, people are not “just down.” They are never coming back to work unless there’s a way forward to contribute to society without taking away from their wellbeing.

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