- President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan would invest heavily in childcare and paid leave.
- “This is a historic investment,” Melissa Boteach of the National Women’s Law Center told Insider.
- The programs could increase mothers’ earnings and help repair inequities worsened during the pandemic.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has exacerbated the inequities that existed in the before times. One group that’s been particularly hard hit is women – especially women of color.
President Joe Biden’s late April announcement of the American Families Plan sets the stage for a massive investment in predominantly female workers, and mothers. It could mark a new era in America’s economic thinking around care and caretakers, and how essential both are to the economy.
April’s surprisingly bad jobs report only threw the need for this into greater relief. Women’s unemployment rates went down as more women exited the labor force. After 495,000 women age 20 and older had entered the labor force in March, 165,000 women in that same group exited the next month.
The following chart shows monthly changes in labor force participation by gender:
Some of the plan’s provisions include $225 billion for a national paid family and medical leave program, an area where the US lags behind many peers. There’s also $200 billion for universal pre-K and $225 billion for affordable and high-quality childcare, which would be free for the lowest-earning families. It’s coupled with the expanded child tax credit, which Biden is pushing to extend through 2025, providing direct monthly checks to parents.
“The Biden administration made a major commitment to childcare in the American Families Plan that’s going to change the lives of millions of women – especially Black and Brown women – who have been hit the hardest by this pandemic,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement to Insider.
“This is a historic investment,” Melissa Boteach, the vice president for income security and child care/early learning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Insider.
Women, and especially mothers, have been devastated by the pandemic’s economic fallout
Throughout the pandemic, nearly 2 million women have fallen out of the labor force, according to the NWLC.
After March’s jobs report brought some good news for women, the April report means that it would take 28 months for women to get back to February 2020 employment levels, the NWLC finds, based on the 161,000 nonfarm payroll jobs added for women that month. Those roles may be low-paying, as leisure and hospitality saw the most gains, and could worsen wage gaps for the women filling them.
Among those leaving the workforce in droves are mothers. August research from the Census Bureau found that, among those not working, 32.1% of women ages 25 to 44 weren’t working because of childcare, while The New York Times reported that potentially 1.5 million mothers had left the labor force between the onset of the pandemic and September 2020. As back-to-school season started up in September, 1 million married women lost their jobs. While things rebounded a little for mothers, 1.2 million more were unemployed in January than a year earlier.
And then there are the mothers who had to stay in the workforce: According to an NWLC analysis, mothers make up one in five frontline workers, and they see a wage gap in their professions as well.
Saru Jayaraman, the president of One Fair Wage, previously told Insider that there was a bifurcation in how women experienced the pandemic, with some suffering major income losses but technically remaining employed.
The battle over universal childcare and paid leave isn’t new
As feminist magazine Bitch Media chronicles, demands for universal childcare span decades. It was a central plank in the 1970s feminist movement, and the 1971 Comprehensive Child Development Act – which, as the New Republic reports, would have created a national daycare support – passed with bipartisan support. It was ultimately vetoed by then-President Richard Nixon.
Overall, according to an NWLC and Columbia University report, having access to affordable care could boost the lifetime earnings for women with two children by $94,000. Black and Latina women would see a larger percent increase in their earnings.
Notably, the package also boosts wages for childcare workers, a predominantly female workforce. They’re also more likely to live in poverty than the wider workforce – and have difficulty affording childcare of their own.
“I am glad that President Biden has prioritized addressing the challenges that so many mothers face in this country – including the frequent inability to afford quality child care and early education, and the lack of paid family leave that has forced thousands of women from the workforce in the last year alone,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a longtime childcare advocate, said in a statement to Insider.
These investments would also put the US more in line with its peers, according to Vicki Shabo, a paid leave expert at think tank New America.
“What I would tell a worker is that, if the Biden plan is enacted, they’ll no longer have to wonder whether they’ll be able to see their baby’s first smile,” Shabo said.
More to be done, and a rocky road ahead
Notably, the Biden plan would spend less than other childcare proposals from Congress, such as the Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA).
The NWLC says it would only take $700 billion in direct spending on childcare to help facilitate an equitable recovery. And the Biden plan’s paid leave would roll out over a decade, while other proposals would start benefits sooner.
“It’s going to take a much bigger investment to guarantee universal childcare and early learning because our childcare system was broken long before a pandemic hit, and I’m ready to lead this fight all the way,” Warren said.
There’s also GOP resistance to the package’s size and definition of infrastructure. Some have already called investments outside of roads and bridges socialist or Soviet-style, returning to a common Republican playbook for Democratic policy items they don’t like.
-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) April 29, 2021
The final package will almost certainly not look identical to Biden’s current proposals, although a Morgan Stanley research note predicts a final package could survive relatively intact at $4 trillion.
A cosponsor of the CCWFA, Rep. Bobby Scott, said in a statement to Insider that Biden’s “historic” plan would make an immediate difference in the lives of millions of mothers and families. “The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an enormous burden on working parents – and mothers in particular,” he said in a statement to Insider.
Sen. Patty Murray – another architect of the CCWFA – said in a statement to Insider that the lack of affordable childcare doesn’t just hurt women; it also hurts the economy.
“We want women in the job market, we want women in the Senate, we want women to be able to take whatever path they choose – because our families, our country and our economy benefits from that.”