5 Things Black Workers Need to Know About BBB
By Nat Baldino
Policymakers have praised the trillion-dollar investments of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed in November, noting it will create a new generation of high-quality, high-paying jobs, and investments in American infrastructure. Those jobs will be important. But as the Senate considers what working families need in the Build Back Better (BBB) Act, many are left wondering what building back better really means for them.
Black workers in particular have historically been denied opportunities and forced into high-risk, low-wage industries—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. An investment in American jobs must address both present and historical harm. True investment must create high-quality jobs and a commitment to Black communities. As the scope of BBB is negotiated, here’s what Black workers should pay attention to.
1. BBB creates jobs.
If passed, BBB is expected to create over 3.2 million jobs a year. Many will be through industry partnership grants in high-poverty areas. BBB also reinvests in the Civilian Conservation Corps to create green jobs to fight climate change. This will spawn over 300,000 jobs that prioritize workers who have been historically marginalized.
Why these jobs matter for Black workers: Discrimination has pushed Black workers into low-paying, poor-quality jobs that have little opportunity for growth. Jobs funded by BBB will pay high wages, provide good benefits, and offer room for growth in massive new industries of the green economy. By assigning specific dollar amounts to initiatives aimed at hiring workers who have been underrepresented, Black workers can join the new wave of green jobs.
2. BBB creates career pathways.
Don’t think you’re qualified for these types of jobs? BBB also creates career pathways for workers who have been historically marginalized to enter new fields. Many of these green jobs will be available through subsidized employment: government-funded initiatives to create jobs in new sectors through things like Job Corps, apprenticeships, and specific job opportunities for people who were formerly incarcerated.
Why career pathways matter for Black workers: Programs like these allow participants to be paid living wages while being trained. This means that rather than going into debt to get industry experience, you will be able to support yourself even while in training. Subsidized employment programs often support workers in finding full-time employment after the program ends through mentorship and industry connections.
3. Build Back Better will strengthen current jobs.
BBB has specific funds to invest in in-home care. An investment in the field itself will mean higher wages and a better standard of living for in-home health care workers. Grocery store workers and essential agriculture workers will also see investments in their industries that will increase their wages. Some of the money going out to each state is set aside for improving wages across the board, raising the standards for the nation. BBB will also strengthen the jobs of child care providers and pre-K teachers by increasing pay to a living wage equal to K-12 teachers with similar credentials and experience.
Why these jobs matter for Black workers: Over half of home health aides are women of color, the majority of whom are Black women. 15 percent of the early child care workforce is Black and paid below the federal poverty rate. Black women in particular have long been forced to do care work. Care workers have been perennially overworked and underpaid, especially as frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing a trend that began during slavery.
4. Build Back Better will make caring for yourself and loved ones easier.
If kept in the package, four weeks of paid leave could allow Black workers to take paid time off to care for themselves and their loved ones during times of illness. BBB also includes funding for pregnant women, young parents and families, sexual assault and domestic violence prevention and support services, and care for older individuals from marginalized backgrounds. In addition, BBB provides a child care guarantee that will provide access to affordable, high-quality child care for children and families.
Why these investments matter for Black workers: Compared to white workers, Black workers are 83 percent more likely to be unable to take leave when needed. And, with the historically high cost of child care and discrimination trapping Black workers in low-paying jobs, more than one in four Black parents relied on family members to either help pay for child care or provide child care directly during the pandemic. Investment in paid leave and child care is essential to keeping Black workers in the workforce.
5. BBB invests in Black futures.
BBB increases the maximum federal Pell Grant by $550 annually, making it easier for workers with low incomes to afford college. HBCUs will also see more funding, allowing these institutions to support more students with low incomes to attend college. In addition, BBB will provide funding for adult education through programs like English, math, digital skills, and GED programs, as well as community college-based short-term workforce training.
Of course, investing in Black futures means investing in Black workers now. To do so, Congress needs to pass the strongest possible version of Build Back Better.