The unveiling of the American Jobs Plan has sparked conversation about what the Biden administration can do for U.S. workers. This is a step in the right direction. However, because this legislation is more fundamentally about infrastructure and new jobs, the question of what the government can do for current low-income workers in particular is still an open one.

In another post about how Biden should improve American capitalism, we cited Brookings Institute numbers reporting that as of 2019, 44% of all U.S. workers aged 18 to 64 held low-wage jobs. This indicates an hourly wage of $10.22, though we should keep in mind that this is an average, and many earn less. And it is the people in this category who are in most need of a true, comprehensive jobs plan.

What we know at this point is that the infrastructure-oriented American Jobs Plan does seek to set aside $100 billion for “workforce development targeted at low-income and underserved communities.” Without a full range of details about what this actually means though, we have some thoughts on what that development should look like (or what broader assistance for low-income workers ought to entail).

First and foremost is a minimum wage increase. This has been a major talking point since the early days of the Democratic primaries, and at this point the fight for a $15 minimum is now central to policymaking in Washington. In March, an amendment guaranteeing this new minimum wage failed to make it into the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, leading a a report on CNET to declare the fight for a pay raise to be “over.”

The American Jobs Plan's focus on infrastructure is still meant to create jobs with reasonable pay (a ton of them, in fact).

Certainly, there is staunch opposition to a $15 minimum wage from the minority party in Congress at the moment, and there is no talk of this matter being part of the American Jobs Plan. But a minimum wage boost is still among the core points of discussion regarding what the government can do for low-income workers.

Another item that should be under consideration and is not discussed as regularly is the implementation of financial wellbeing training in workplaces. This is a perk some higher-income Americans already enjoy, and one that goes a long way. According to a Petal Card blog post on what applicants should look for when accepting job offers, companies that provide financial wellbeing benefits can save employees anywhere from $1,200 to $6,000 a year.

Those benefits can vary. But generally they include some manner of financial training, money management support, and instruction on handling debt. These are simple but significant benefits that low-wage employees should have equal access to. And frankly, legislation establishing new norms or requirements for the availability of financial wellbeing support might just be less polarizing than some other items that are discussed more frequently.

In The Spotlight

Education is another factor in this discussion, and one that has been a sticking point in job support debates for far too long. As things stand currently, there are simply not enough educational opportunities available for low-income workers in the U.S. This leaves said workers with little hope of acquiring new credentials or degrees, and thus little hope of advancing to meaningfully better jobs.

If the government is truly to deliver for low-wage workers during this or any other administration, affordable community college needs to be part of the equation. The Pell Grant system provides something of a blueprint in this regard by providing some low-income students with a form of financial aid for local college that does not need to be repaid. However, it is arguable that a more universal system — or simply a Pell Grant policy with stronger support — is needed to make a difference.

To end on a (cautiously) positive note, paid family leave is another core component of this issue that might be moving in the right direction. Per a recent article by The Hill, calls for a national paid family leave policy are actually coming from the business community in light of COVID-19. The pandemic shined a light on the virtually impossible circumstances of working parents without the ability to contribute remotely, leading nearly 200 companies to pen a letter to Congress in support of paid family leave policy in the next spending package.

That is not to say that such a policy would necessarily pass through the current Congress. But with strong support from the majority party and the urging of major businesses, paid family leave may have a chance. It won’t directly improve wages for low-income U.S. workers, but it would make for one of the most significant universal benefits achieved in quite some time.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to know how much of this can realistically advance and ultimately pass. To his credit, President Biden appears to have genuine concern about the American working class — even if folksy talk about his blue-collar background can go a little bit too far. The American Jobs Plan's focus on infrastructure is still meant to create jobs with reasonable pay (a ton of them, in fact). And the administration has also already made moves toward greater caregiving support and more widespread paid leave. Things are moving in the right direction.

But U.S. politics being what they are today, it will still take compromise and deal-making many would view as unlikely to make most of the above happen for existing low-wage workers.


Trevor Baldwin
About The Author Trevor Baldwin
Trevor Baldwin is a freelance writer and blog contributor who covers current events, politics, tech, and entertainment.

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